Friday, December 19, 2014

Steering clear of winter woes

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 12/2/2013

Old Man Winter is set to rear his ugly head later this week.

Despite pleasant weather Monday and another mild December day expected today, the warmth likely won’t stick around long, according to Kansas forecasts.

Old Man Winter is set to rear his ugly head later this week.

Despite pleasant weather Monday and another mild December day expected today, the warmth likely won’t stick around long, according to Kansas forecasts.

With high temperatures predicted to only reach the mid-20s and a low of 8 degrees possible by the middle of the week, cold air is set to blow in with a chance of snowflakes.

Road crews will be ready to react if snow falls, Jim Haag, Franklin County public works director, said Monday. Though the county doesn’t have the resources to pretreat roads before a possible snowstorm hits, he said, that doesn’t mean workers aren’t getting ready for winter weather.

“We’ve loaded the spreaders [boxes that transfer the material from the trucks to the roadway surface] and made sure they’re all working,” Haag said. “We’re installing lights on the back of [the spreaders] to assist in the operation. We have materials already mixed with granular substances, or man[-made] sand, for traction and salt for melting the snow and ice.”

The likelihood of snow this week is on the lower end, according to forecasts, with a 30 percent chance Thursday and again on Sunday. Haag said the county already has 3,000 tons of salt on-hand for whenever the weather turns bad.

“We have sand on an as-need basis, but it’s not actually sand; it’s limestone rock we get from the quarry,” he said. “We have five trucks that would be involved in clearing the paved roadways and the over 700 miles of gravel roads would be cleared by vehicle operators.”

The crews watch the weather closely, Haag said, especially when snow is in the forecast.

“If we know a big storm’s coming, the [road] superintendent will split it into two shops,” he said. “We’ll have people available in shops that are mechanics and people available to operate the loader and at least five drivers and possibly a spare to run that shift. At the conclusion [of that shift] we’ll have five more drivers come in until roads are clear and the storms are over.”

The City of Ottawa’s public works department has its own winter weather ritual, Andy Haney said, which is fairly similar to the county’s preparations.

“We just make sure the equipment is in good repair and winter maintenance is good and we’re stocked up on appropriate materials to the best of our ability,” Haney, Ottawa public works director, said. “We typically try to stock about 250 tons of salt, but it depends on the year and availability. The limestone rock chips we don’t store because we can get them from [the rock quarry] whenever we need them.”

The city’s crew is fairly small, Haney said, so the crew works in shifts.

“We have a fairly small crew — only about 10 to 11 strong — but we put them on 12-hour shifts, so about half the crew is working at any one time during the storms,” he said. “If it’s snow removal, we’ll call in contractors to help and recruit from other departments and deal with it the best we can.”

Snow removal eats up a good chunk of time and resources, Haney said, and many things affect how long snow removal could take.

“It depends on the snow event itself — whether it’s wet or dry, whether it snows while we’re [working],” he said. “Generally, if we’re removing snow from downtown [Ottawa], that takes all of our resources for a couple of days. And the reason is because there’s no place to push the snow downtown. It has to be hauled away. Just plowing, we can get over all the streets in town in a couple of days, and that’s working around the clock.”


Forecasting winter’s severity this year isn’t as easy as some might think, Bill Gargan said.

“The climate prediction center at this time for the next three months has us about near-normal temperatures and normal precipitation,” Gargan, meteorologist with the Nation Weather Service in Topeka, said. “We can’t really say specific details like ‘We’re going to get major snow storms a month in advance.’”

Colder-than-normal temperatures could start off December, Gargan said, with it warming up into the new year. No signs of big winter storms are currently evident, he said.

“For the short term — like the next one to 15 days — we can say we’re in a pattern that will give us much colder weather,” he said. “I think the start of the winter could be cold and could warm up in January and that’s what they’re looking at. We can go out to 10 days and that’s almost mid-December, which looks like it will be below normal in temperatures.”

The predictions are made from years of observations, Gargan said, which started back in 1981.

“There used to be a small office in Concordia, Kan., and the mission there was to issue warnings and take observations,” he said. “So the December average snowfall [in Ottawa] is 3.8 inches, for January it is 5.7 inches and for the month of February it’s 4.7 inches.”


Being aware of winter weather conditions is the best way to be prepared for it, Alan Radcliffe said.

“Just be informed,” Radcliffe, director of Franklin County emergency management, said. “Know what the weather is going to do before you leave for work and if [winter weather] is approaching, listen during the day so you know what your drive back home is going to be like.”

When a snowstorm hits, it’s best to stay off the roadways to avoid possible car wrecks, getting stuck and allowing the public works departments to clear the roads, Radcliffe said.

“Most people have sick and vacation days and can miss a day of work,” he said. “Sometimes staying at home and letting public works clear the roads is the best thing to do.”

If missing work or staying off the roads isn’t a possibility, having emergency supplies in a motorist’s car is the next best thing, Lt. Curtis Hall, with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, said.

“As winter gets here, just make sure there’s bottles of water, extra clothing or a blanket, in case it takes a while for law enforcement or a tow truck to get [to the stalled vehicle],” Hall said. “Watch if your car is off the road and stranded. Don’t keep the exhaust pipe blocked and leaving the car running, because carbon monoxide can get inside the car.”

In the event a car is stalled and a motorist needs help from law enforcement or a tow truck, Hall said, it’s important to know the surroundings.

“Being able to give us a description of where they’re at — I-35 doesn’t cut it,” Hall said. “What mile marker, what side of the road [is good to know] because if we have to search for them in bad weather, our line of sight may not be far.”

If prescription drugs are taken daily, make sure there is a supply of them in the vehicle while driving, and at home if a snow storm is coming, Radcliffe said.

“Make sure you have plenty of medications if you take medicine,” he said. “If you have a doctor’s appointment or special needs like dialysis, check with doctors to make sure you’re following a diet in case you can’t come in for dialysis or your doctor’s appointment.”

Having an all-hazard radio is another must-have — not just during winter, but all season, Radcliffe said.

“Listen to the weather forecast every day, not just winter weather, but it should be a daily practice so you know what the weather’s going to do every day,” he said. “Weather-related events are the biggest hazards in our county.”

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