The western Illinois city of Moline has had 61 water main breaks so far. That's 10 more than anyone there can remember and a staggering number given that the community has just 240 miles of water lines.
The repairs are made all the more difficult by dangerous subzero temperatures that freeze soil down to a depth of 3 or 4 feet.
"The crews out there, their coveralls are freezing solid," said Greg Swanson, general manager of Moline's utilities. At times, their pant legs get so stiff, they can't even bend their knees.
"They get in their trucks to warm up a bit, and they just stay with it," he said.
Because the ground is so rigid, leaking water often does not escape directly above the busted pipe, but travels hundreds of feet before finding a soft spot or an opening, occasionally shooting into the air like a geyser, Swanson said.
Not only that, but the ground is so hard that the same digging machines that can normally expose a pipe in less than an hour have to scrape and claw for 11 hours or more to do the same job.
"The contractors say they've never seen anything like it," said Doug Dunlap, a village trustee in the tiny Illinois community of Lyndon.
Compounding the workers' woes are parked vehicles that are difficult or impossible to move because water that rose to their bumpers has turned to ice.
"We had tires that wouldn't spin because they were in a huge block of ice, and we had to chop the ice until they could get out," said Lenore Joseph, describing a row of cars on her Chicago street that looked like so many bugs trapped by flypaper.
Far less dramatic but especially aggravating are all the potholes, which form after water seeps into cracks in the pavement, turns to ice and expands.