Heavy snow, plow problems equal hazardous roads

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Friday, December 11, 2009
— Utility crews, snowplow drivers and homeowners spent much of Thursday fighting ice that the day before had fallen as 12 inches of wet snow.

Some highways and streets were icy-rutted thrill rides.

In both the city of Janesville and around the county, efforts to clear the snow on Tuesday and Wednesday were hampered by plow breakdowns, downed power lines, broken tree limbs and massive snow downpours.

The result was some unplowed roads. The sloppy snow froze into solid masses that viciously gripped the pavement.

In Janesville, operations director John Whitcomb's solution is motor graders, those ungainly looking plowing machines, which have the ability to apply pressure to their blades.

Motor graders were sent out to break up the packed snow and ice in places such as West Court Street, where the hardpack was burnished by passing cars into shiny white ice. Cars handled like toboggans in the icy ruts.

The county's Ben Coopman had the same plan for rural highways and roads, but he had a new device that he hopes will help. A county grader is equipped with a toothed blade.

The teeth dig into the hardpack, creating long grooves, so it's like driving on corduroy the long way, Coopman said.

Coopman was hopeful the grooves would provide traction and help the hardpack melt faster once it warms up.

But the graders can't do it all.

"It's just going to take time and effort and warmer weather before we're going to be able to break through some of that ice," Whitcomb said.

Residential areas in the city might remain snow covered and icy until March if it doesn't melt off, however, Whitcomb said.

The city's does not have a clear-pavement policy in residential areas, Whitcomb noted, but his people will consider working on streets that might be hazardous.

Both Whitcomb and Coopman said their crews would be spreading a sand/salt mix at intersections.

Whitcomb said he was proud of the job his crews did, given the unusually difficult conditions and the extremely long hours they worked.

"Absolutely everything was working against us yesterday but even though the side streets are covered and icy, I think we avoided major problems on a grand scale," Whitcomb said.

Coopman said people have been largely understanding about the difficulties.

Shelter empty

The city of Edgerton set up an emergency shelter Wednesday after hearing that 1,000 electric customers in the Edgerton area were without power. No one ended up spending the night in the fire station, said Fire Chief Brian Demrow.

Some people called to inquire, but their power was restored, so they didn't come in, Demrow said.

"Apparently, everybody had someplace to go," Demrow said.

Volunteers staffed the shelter throughout the night and Thursday, fielding calls and referring people to the Red Cross, if needed.

"We prepared for the worst, and the best happened," Demrow said. "It was a good practice, if nothing else. It's good to see that he city, the police and fire, worked well together. Kwik Trip and the Piggly Wiggly both offered food, and the school district was contacted when the middle school was being considered for the shelter, Demrow said.


Forecasters are calling for steadily rising temperatures after a low Thursday night in the minus single digits.

The National Weather Service is calling for a high of 17 today in Janesville and highs in the upper 20s over the weekend. Skies are expected to be sunny through Saturday.

The next chance of snow is Sunday. A rain/snow mix becomes more likely Sunday night and Monday, when the temperature is predicted to rise above the freezing point.

Final warning

The Janesville Police Department reports issuing 410 warnings for vehicles parked on the street during the snow emergency.

The department issues only warnings during the first snow emergency of the year. Officers will be issuing tickets starting with the next snow emergency.

Officers issued 590 during the first emergency of 2008 and 320 in 2007. Both were also in early December.

Sidewalk clearance

A Janesville city ordinance requires sidewalks to be cleared of snow and ice within 12 hours of a snowfall.

To report a sidewalk that has not been cleared, call the City Services Center at 755-3110.

The reported sidewalk will be inspected, and the property owner will be issued a notice. The owner then has three days to clear the sidewalk.

If the walk is not cleared after three days, the city has the sidewalk cleared at the owner's expense.

Slippery spots

Clearing ice is easier said than done. Salt will not work in temperatures like Thursday's, but as the thermometer creeps up and sun hits the pavement, it can help, Whitcomb said.

Sand spread on the ice can prevent falls. The city has a pile of sand laced with salt at the transit center at 900 N. Parker Drive, just north of the Veterans Memorial Bridge.

City residents can have sand for free but are asked to limit themselves to two buckets or bushel baskets.

Tree debris

The storm produced an unusual amount of broken tree limbs, and Janesville residents may want to dispose of those branches, but the landfill's compost site is closed for the season.

Whitcomb said residents should go to the main landfill site, where they can deposit the waste in bins or get a key to open the gate at the debris site.

The landfill opens at 8 a.m. Monday through Saturday. It closes at 3:30 p.m. Monday, 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday.

Walworth County

In Walworth County, officials reported few snow-related accidents, mostly runoffs and other small incidents.

Walworth County Public Works Director Shane Crawford said most residents cooperated by staying off the roads when the storm hit.

"The forecast was that it was going to be a heck of a lot worse that it actually was," Crawford said. "It scared everybody into staying home."

Public works Superintendent Larry Price said county workers were on the road starting at 4 a.m. Thursday, plowing and working on the worst spots on county and state roads. They used about 2,500 tons of salt over the last three days, he said.

Most of the work now will be keeping curb snow away from the roads, as strong winds tend to drift snow back to the roads, Crawford said.

Last updated: 9:46 am Monday, December 17, 2012

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