The nation's energy and transport suppliers, who left whole sections of the country out in the cold last January and February, are girding up for another winter as bad as the record-breaking winter of '77.
Providers of nearly all the goods and services that gave out, never arrived or got stuck in the vast snow drifts of last winter say they learned a lot from the experience, have spent a great deal of money and have now made adjustments. They say they are as ready as they can be for whatever is coming.
The winter of '77, the worst in decades, shut down schools and factories nationwide and froze water mains, harbors and trains into uselessness, idling thousands of workers.
Locally, parts of Virginia suffered curtailments in natural gas supplies which dozens of stores and businesses closed temporarily because of the weather.
"Nothing magical has happened since then," said Virginia Energy Office director Lewis Lawson, echoing most of those queried. "There are no additional power plants, no new pipelines. But we're getting plans laid out so people will know what kind of response they can expect from government."
No vast new supplies of gas or coal have materialized, but the problems last year were less those of supply than of distribution, industry spokesman now say.
Lulled by three relatively mild previous winters, natural gas distributors sold some of the gas they had in storage as early as September, 1976. When the hard freezes hit and stayed, the gas ran short.
"They'll manage it differently now, and they have some additional gas," said Joseph Solters, senior staff engineer and head of a winter (formerly the Federal Energy Administration natural gas office).
He said 0420 of the nation's 29 natural gas pipelines had some diiculty meeting demand last year, but all have since reported beefed-up storage and supply arrangements. Total supplies will again be 21 per cent below contractual obligations, just as they were when last winter began, but actual demand has dropped somewhat, Solters said [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
The shortage conservation and growing conversions to other fuels by industrial gas users made nervous shortfalls.
"Utilities claim they can't see any long-term conversion (away from gas), but then they have bonds and stocks and so on and have to be careful what they say," Solters said.
Conservation alone has reduced gas demand in the Washington area by about 7 per cent, according to the Washington Gas Light Co., which recently asked permission to take on new customers.
Even with more buyers, Washington Gas echoes most other utilities in saying there will be no problems if the winter is 10 per cent colder than normal. Last year's winter was 15 per cent worse than average in Washington, but the Weather Service says chances of that happening again are about one in 30.
There is no point in pulling more gas out of the wells for an emergency that may not occur, industry leaders say. Indeed, most utilities have arranged for substitute fuels if needed and beefed up their stockpiles. Replacement fuels like propane will coast the utilities and ultimately the consumers more money than gas, agreed Ryland Bailey, senior engineer for the Virginia State Corporation Commission.
"You can't get around that, but the additional cost is small compared to overall ones . . . and the cost of layoffs," he said.
A new pact between Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia promises coordination of available gas supplies and public notification to avoid a repeat of last year, when Northern Virginia was out back while Washington and Maryland consumers were not.
Another energy source, coal, suffered from a massive freeze of the Chesapeake Bay. The Coast Guard broke ice from last Dec. 30 through Feb. 23, compared to its usual two or three weeks of using icebreakers, according to Capt. Edward Murphy, chief of search and rescue operations at the Coast Guard's Portsmouth, Va., regional headquarters.
Fuel cargoes valued at $32.8 million were convoped through the ice. Murphy said, but even so Virginia Electric and Power Co. came close to running out of coal. Buoys dragged off course and channel markers destroyed by the shifting Chesapeake ice cost $1.3 million to replace.
"Last year was trial and error. This year we're putting things into operation more effectively," Murphy said. There are special cold-weather training problems and convoy procedures, more detailed instructions for crews. "We're ready," Murphy said.
Other things that freeze include water pipes. There were 3,015 service freeze-ups in the Washington Suburgan Sanitary Commission area last year where there are normally 25 to 50, according to WSSC spokesman Arthur Brigham."There's no way I know of to prevent pipes freezing," he said. "Last year we weren't ready. The calls [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] us wore us all out."
A new overtime system will put all personnel on 10-hour days when the cold hits, then eliminate weekends and lengthen worktime even more if necessary, Brigham said. He added there are new provisions for heavy-duty welders, temporary help and portable lighting and generators for night work that should spped things up this year.
Home heating oil will be adequate nationwide, though costs are up. Trigger mechanisms designed to halt price rises last winter failed to work for lack of enforcement and have not yet been given teeth, according to Ellen Berman of the Consumer Federation of America.
National average retail prices for residential No. 2 home heating oil rose from 39.8 cents a gallon in August, 1976, to 45.3 cents by last February. Washington area prices were generally half a cent higher than the national average.
The Community Services Administration passed out $162 million in aid to persons who cloudn't pay their fuel bills last year and has proposed $545 million for the program this year. Fuel oil prices, tough hard to predict until the administration's energy program emerges from Congress, will probably go to 48 cents a gallon this winter, according to the Energy Administration information office.
Washington was one of many cities that ran short of rock salt for icy roads last year, but the problem was one of distribution and not supply, according to Alfred Kroll of International Salt Co. in Scranton, Pa.
He said the industry provides seven to nine million tons of salt per year and a major citp can use 30,000 tons during single storm. Stockpiling the salt would be an obvious solution, Kroll said, since transporting it becomes difficult once the freezes hit. "I don't see any significant increase in stockpiling this year," Kroll said.
Buffalo, N.Y., was buried under 16 1/2 feet of snow over the winter and officials there said they are ready for another bad season, Carl. L. Beltz, director of motor equipment management, said he had bought $1 million in snow-fighting equipment and has another $800,000 available to pay private snow-plowers if they are needed.
Mayor Stanley M. Makowski has total control of city traffic during storms and will be able to run things from a central command post. "We're totally organized," Beltz said. "No more of the confusion we had last winter."
Conrail, the semipublic corporation that hauls much of the nation's freight east of the Mississippe, has also reorganized. It lost $100 million last year because of overtime, frozen lines, immobilized engines and other problems inherited from the myriad of old railroads that were consolidated, according to press spokesman Joseph Harvey.
Conrail has spent $91 million of $171 new locomotives and rehabilitated 1,600 others, rejuvenating half its total fleet, he said. There are also 117 snowfighting machines.
While some railroads froze into immobility last winter, so did several of the nation's major rivers. The mighty Ohio River solidified and paralyzed much of America's industrial belt traffic. This year the river flow is 150 to 240 per cent higher than normal because of heavy rain, according to Martin Pedigo of the Army Corps of Engineers in Louisville, Ky. That means it will take longer to freeze, he said.
The heavy flow is the region's only hope if there is a repeat of super-cold weather, however, since the river's 20 sets of locks freeze up in the cold and icebreakers can't move around.
It was so cold last winter that tons of coal froze solid in railroad cars and could not be unloaded. There are new experimental fluids and superstrong jackhammers being bought, but basically "there's still not too much we can do about that," Harvey said.
To cope, utilities are storing 50 to 90 days' supplies of coal and making sure their own fuel-handling equipment is in top shape. "There are lots of things we can do to prevent any particular problem but they all cost money and in the end, the consumer pays," said Jim Wittine of the Virginia State Corporation Commission.
Amtrak pipe damage, steam boiler failure and frozen fuel equipment delayed hundreds of passenges all over the Northeast last year. The company has spent $2.5 million to renovate old generators and buy new ones, and has opened warm, covered service and maintenance "roundhouses" in Chicago and Rensselaer, N.Y.
"The biggest long-term thing is the conversion (from diesel) to electric powered locomotives," said Amtrak spokesman Brian Duff. "They may look effete but they worked last winter when the others froze up."
Nationwide, clothing dealers report they cannot keep longjohns, ski masks and heavy woolens in stock. "Anything that will keep you warm will sell," said Robert Calvin, president of Marum Knitting Mills in Chicago.
Suzanne Coe, assistant manager of Eddie Bauer Expedition Outfitter sportswear store in Washington, said sales of super-warm goosedowns have been "wild, for the last two months." Last year the store ran out of long underwear before Christmas so this year the supply has tripled, she said.