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County crews try to weather the storm as they put up snow barriers

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ANN MARIE AMES
December 4, 2008
— They just got used to the nice, smooth drive on the newly paved Highway 14.

Now, commuters between Janesville and the Walworth County line have new bumps to contend with.


Snow drifts.


Rock County highway crews normally battle the dangerous, white phantasms with snow fences erected in empty corn and soybean fields.


Crews this season have put fences in strategic spots along state, county and town roads, Rock County Highway Superintendent Hal Mayer said, but they haven't gotten to the windy strip in Bradford Township along Highway 14 between Emerald Grove Road and the Walworth County line.


They plan to, Mayer said.


Sheriff's deputies responded to one slide-off in that stretch during the Tuesday-evening drive, despite the fact that it wasn't snowing, Lt. Jude Maurer said.


Putting up snow fences is an inexact science, Mayer said, because it means battling the wind. Plow drivers and road crews know well the spots that tend to drift. They keep notes in diaries and remember from year to year where the fences are needed, Mayer said.


But things change.


Fencerows come down, buildings go up and farmers rotate crops. All of those affect wind patterns across roads, Mayer said.


Crews have to get landowner permission to put fences in fields, and they must wait until farmers are done with fall fieldwork before they get started, Mayer said. Harvesting and chisel plowing finished late this year, he said.


As long as the ground stays as soft and crews get time between snowfalls, they'll put up fences along Highway 14 and in other windy spots, Mayer said.


In Walworth County, crews put up some fences this year, but it's not a top priority, said Public Works Director Shane Crawford.


"We're triaging what we do in non-snow months what I think is more critical work," Crawford said. "By this time last year, snow fencing was a non-issue. It was creating drifts anyway, considering how the snow was so deep it was covering the fences."


Crawford would like to work with farmers who have large, open fields close to major roads. If farmers left four to eight rows of corn in place of a snow fence, the corn would make an effective, maintenance-free windbreak, Crawford said.


"Everybody likes to have a policy or procedure for everything," Crawford said. "But when you're reacting to the weather, sometimes you have to take your punches as they come."


SNOW FENCE 101

Snow fences don't block snow from blowing across roads. Rather, they slow the wind and create a vortex.


That makes the snow tumble and create a drift hopefully in an empty field between the fence and the road rather than across the road.


The key is to put the fence far enough from the road, Rock County Highway Superintendent Hal Mayer said.


Typically, crews start at the right-of-way, which is about 33 feet from the centerline, and take 15 paces into the field, Mayer said. There they plant the 4-foot fence 6 inches off the ground.


If rural landowners want to put up fences to keep farm lanes or long driveways from drifting, Mayer advises they make sure to keep them far enough from the drive.


"Most commonly, problems happen when people put snow fences next to driveways, so snow dumps on the driveway," Mayer said. "You've got to stay far enough back."


Eastern Rock County needs more snow fences on east-west roads, Mayer said. The western section of the county tends to need more fences on north-south roads, he said.


But that's not an exact rule, and wind patterns on roads change yearly, Mayer said.


"You just go off your best shot," he said.



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