Despite almost impossible driving conditions, road crews maintained aroundthe-clock shifts from New Year’s Day through Tuesday morning, with non-stop plowing, salting and repairs, said Jack Farschman, Erie County engineer.
“We always make sure our equipment is running properly even in these conditions” Farschman said. “It was difficult to keep up because we really couldn’t put any salt down”
Road salt, like motorists and their vehicles, works best when conditions are warmer, Farschman said. For instance, road salt loses its ability to melt snow and assist vehicles in gripping streets once the temperature reaches the teens, Farschman said.
Temperatures dipped to minus 14 degrees Monday night and remained in single digits throughout Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service in Cleveland.
The low temperatures almost broke the all-time record for cold weather in Sandusky, which still stands at minus 20 degrees, without wind chill, in January 1994.
“That’s rare to see this kind of weather,” Farschman said.
Cold temperatures are dangerous, especially for Erie County’s 12 snow plow drivers who worked eight hour shifts around the clock to try and reclaim roads the recent storm buried under sheets of ice and snow.
Additionally, the county has four standby drivers who can step in at a moment’s notice if a driver falls ill or if a plow needs repairs.
Drivers, salt and plows make up the backbone of the county’s forces when severe winter weather hits.
“Those are the most important ingredients we have,” Farschman said. “Between all of them, we don’t miss a beat”
Having extra drivers proved vital Monday night when a snowplow’s wheels broke, leaving its driver alone and stranded until help arrived. What followed was a five-hour campaign where two mechanics, an operator and a tow truck worked tirelessly to retrieve the plow. This took place while temperatures reached 14 degrees below zero, while wind chill actually made it feel like minus 35 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
“We couldn’t even make repairs until Tuesday morning” Farschman said.
Snow plows, salt and employing enough drivers can be an expensive endeavor, he said.
Erie County spent about $75,000 on salt this past year, and officials have budgeted even more for 2014, Farschman said.
Farschman’s office could not immediately provide figures for the overall cost to clear roads during the recent storm.
While locals only dealt with Erie County streets — about 140 miles of roads — the Ohio Department of Transportation is tasked with clearing an entire state’s worth of roads. Ohio has more than 260,000 miles of lined roads, according to the Federal Highway Administration’s website.
Ohio is split into 12 districts that have their own snow plow hubs responsible for salting and clearing roads in their region. Erie and Huron counties are part of District 3.
“Our crews are constantly dealing with potential equipment breakdowns,” Christine Myers, ODOT district 3 spokeswoman said. “Plus the wind was creating horrible snow drifts and low visibility”
ODOT spent about $290,000 clearing and salting roads between Erie and Huron counties this week. The agency employed 22 drivers — 11 workers per 12-hour shift — to battle subzero temperatures as they cleared roads.
“It’s hard on our guys and the equipment to run like that,” Myers said. “Between both shifts the equipment was running constantly”
ODOT keeps mechanics on standby in the event of a plow breakdown.
While ODOT and winter weather are always against each other, Mother Nature was everyone’s enemy this week.
Just ask Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Brian Hann, who was injured after he slipped and fell on the ice while investigating a crash Tuesday afternoon near Milan.
“This sort of thing happens occasionally,” Highway Patrol Lt. Brett Gockstetter said. “There’s solid ice out there and that causes a lot of crashes in the area”
Hann was on patrol during a Level 3 winter storm warning, which means the roads likely had snow drifts and were extremely dangerous. He was still in the hospital Tuesday afternoon with a possible broken ankle, Gockstetter said.
“This isn’t the first injury I’ve seen a trooper endure, and it probably won’t be the last,” he said. “We’re just glad he wasn’t hit by a vehicle”