by Jon M. Casey
Richard McMillan and John Scharffbillig posed that question to attendees at the APWA Snow Expo training session on April 9 in Charlotte, NC. Co-hosting a seminar entitled Preparing Staff and Equipment for Winter. Together, the two explained how municipalities could plan for snow events, irrespective of where in the U.S. their communities might be located. Both provided experienced insights into effective preparedness as winter approaches.
Yes, there’s snow in the south!
McMillan, director of Public Services for the City of High Point, NC began with a brief historical recount of recent snow events in North Carolina were anywhere from 12 to 48-inches of snow fell in the central Carolina region with as much as 60-inches falling in the mountainous regions of the state, causing problems similar to those in northern states. He said that while it might not be a regular ongoing experience for the entire state, depending on the snow event, any part of his state is capable of experiencing snowfall that can bring the entire area affected, to a halt.
“When you have limited equipment and limited supplies, 12-inches of snow is ‘a lot’ of snow when everyone wants to get out and go the next day and we can’t even get the primary routes cleared,” he said. “(Historically), we can get 12-inches of snow at any time during the winter months, just about anywhere across the state. When the eastern part of the state gets snow, they don’t have plows or spreaders (clear the roadways). All they can do is sit and wait for the snow to melt.”
When asked about his city’s equipment fleet, he said that they have 14 plows, spreaders and similar equipment. “In our area, 8 to 14-inches of snow is about all we can handle. If we get above that, we really slow down. Even in High Point, our priority routes, the 1’s, 2’s and 3’s, are the only ones that really get plowed.”
He said that when their area goes without snow for a year or more, budgets for salt and snow removal tend to be reduced by the governing bodies. Unfortunately, with the absence of adequate funding, when ice storms or other winter events occur, there is not enough funding to meet the immediate need. When ice storms hit, roads can be closed for eight hours or more. Since they don’t deal with snow and ice events every year, their crews get out of practice.
“We continually need to keep our people trained and up to speed,” he said. “Snow removal equipment may sit idle for two years before it’s used. Even so, we have to be ready.”
He said that the worst condition that they can experience is when it snows, followed by sleet, freezing rain and then a temperature drop. The icepack that develops is impossible to remove. “It hardens up like a brick and you can’t cut through it,” he said. “The public wants to get out and drive in this, but they aren’t prepared for it!”
“In High Point, we make brine in a homemade brining system,” he said. “We inspect plows, and get it all up and running to see what we might need. We update contact lists for our people. We contact people in other departments to assist with snow events.”
He said that around the first of November, they begin training in preparation for snow events. They go over checklists and routing. They work to get everyone familiar with procedures that are in effect during snow events. They teach plowing techniques and speed of plowing because of the unfamiliarity with regular plow use.
They work closely with the police department and weather forecasting people in the area so that all of them are working together when the storm comes. “We use the National Weather Service out of Raleigh, NC and rely upon the internet for our forecasting updates. We receive hourly forecasts that have been very accurate.”
He said that they also prepare for media coverage, designating people that they have trained to talk to the media when the weather is the topic. The spokespeople need to know the priorities and procedures since all the citizens want “their street plowed first.”
John Scharffbillig, director Fleet Services Division for the City of Minneapolis Public Works Department, concluded the presentation with a top ten list of things that his snow removal crews look for before going out to plow during snow events. He remarked that the snow forecast for this day in Minneapolis was to be 12-inches, followed by another six to eight inches on April 10. Meanwhile, here in Charlotte, the afternoon temperature was expected to be in the low to mid 80’s. He said that the reason that he, as Chair of Winter Maintenance for the APWA, wanted to schedule a presentation by McMillan was to compare and contrast the differences between the typical expectations of snow removal personnel from the northern, mid-western and western U.S. with those who have to deal with these conditions, as they exist in the southern U.S.
It might be noted that the APWA Snow Expo for 2014 is scheduled for May 4-7, 2014 to be hosted at the Duke Energy Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. For more information visit www.apwa.net/snow.
by Jon M. Casey