Electricity usage demands skyrocketed Tuesday as temperatures dipped to near record lows with wind chills you would expect only in the arctic.

Paul Canevari, regional affairs director for PPL Electric, said a record peak of 7,784 megawatt-hours was set for the PPL coverage area between 5 and 6 p.m. Tuesday, with average power consumption throughout the day hovering in the low to mid-7,000 megawatt-hour range.

The new record means customers used 7.78 million kilowatt-hours of power in that hour, enough to power more than 700 homes for a year.

The old winter record was set on Feb. 5, 2007, when the power consumption peak was 7,577 megawatt-hours.

Because of this extra demand, PJM Interconnection, which operates the electricity grid for more than 61 million people in 13 states and the District of Columbia, asked many area businesses, as well as consumers to conserve energy by turning down thermostats, not running major electric appliances and turning off unnecessary lights, especially during the peak hours of 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 3 to 7 p.m.

Ray Dotter, spokesman for PJM, said that the consumption rates are now lowering because temperatures are on the rise today.

"With temps expected to be not as cold, that will significantly reduce the electricity use," he said this morning.

"One of the challenges in cold weather is not only how much power is used but also how quickly the demand builds. In a couple-hour period, the demand rises quickly."

He said reports were floating around of rolling blackouts occurring because of the high power demand, but that was not the case yesterday.

"Power supplies were strained," Dotter said, "but we were able to stretch them and not have interruptions."

Helping conserve

According to their websites, Jack Frost, Big Boulder and Blue Mountain ski resorts were just a few businesses in Carbon County who closed their operations early to help cut down on the electricity consumption.

Even the TIMES NEWS and TN Printing in Mahoning Township went "off grid" during peak electrical demand times Tuesday and Wednesday morning.

"Our Mahoning Valley facility, which includes the TIMES NEWS and TN Printing, was dispatched several times during the past 24 hours to reduce electricity usage as part of an emergency demand response reduction program," said Bob Miller, director of prepress operations at the company. "During this time, our facility helped reduce load on the electric grid by operating on generator due to critical conditions on the grid."

In situations where power consumption is high, specifically in extreme cold or heat, Canevari said the best thing consumers can do during peak hours is watch their electric usage.

"Set your thermostat lower than normal if health permits, postpone using major electric appliances like your washing machine or dishwasher until mid-day or after 9 p.m. when the demand decreases and turn off lights when you leave a room," he said.

More weatherproblems

Frank's Service Center, Interchange Road, a AAA center, is averaging 60 calls a day since the cold weather began.

"We're doing about 26 jump starts a day, plus lock outs and tows because cars won't start," said Bonnie Hunsicker, customer service representative for Frank's.

Helena Barker of Lansford said her fiance drives a tractor trailer and wasn't working today because the loads were freezing in the trailers.

That's not the only thing freezing. Residents throughout the area battled with frozen pipes. Caitlin Moyer of Kunkletown said she had frozen pipes last night and one burst this morning.

Moyer said, "Last night I came home to all the pipes frozen in our house. I live in a very old farmhouse with a stone walled basement. Our pipes come from the corner of our house, which is also the coldest because it's far away from our furnace."

She has heat tape on the pipes and a heat lamp.

"After about an hour we were able to unfreeze the pipes leading to the kitchen. From there they branch heading up to our bathroom. We can't get to these pipes unless we take the paneling off in kitchen. We weren't about to start demolishing things for hot water. We left our cabinet doors open over night hoping to wake up to warm water," she said.

It didn't work.

When she let the dogs out she heard a hissing sound.

"I thought it might be the furnace but after closer inspection I noticed the wood was wet around a hole that used to contain a pipe. I ran to the basement to discover that the entire thing was flooded. I switched off all the pumps and water heater breakers and looked for the source," Moyer said.

She is in half a double and found out a pipe for the washer hookup, behind a plastic pipe for her neighbor's toilet had burst.

School problems

Penn-Kidder Elementary had a similar problem and informed parents by an automated call this morning that the school would be closed for the day.

The recent string of frigid weather unleashed by Mother Nature has disrupted Palmerton Area School District's scheduled itinerary.

Superintendent Scot Engler informed the school board on Tuesday that a rash of school cancellations has pushed back the district's end of semester.

"The weather has not been cooperating with us at all," Engler said. "With the weather closings, our current end of semester is Jan. 28."

With temperatures hovering at zero this morning, districts were operating under a two-hour delay.

Terry Ahner and Gail Maholick contributed to this report.