Bring it on: Road crews are ready for winter

Local, county and state road crews have loaded trucks with salt and sand in preparation for a predicted cold snap. The forecast calls for bitterly cold temperatures but isn't expected to bring a significant amount of ice or snow and shouldn't last long.



December 21, 2022 - 12:34 PM

Allen County employees Brandon Vink, left, and Terry Johnson are among the road crews expected to respond if and when a winter storm arrives Thursday. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

Local, county and state officials are bracing for a predicted cold snap.

With Allen County on the southern edge of a winter storm expected to bring blizzard-like conditions elsewhere in the state, and sub-zero temperatures in the aftermath, preparations are far-reaching, Iola Assistant City Administrator Corey Schinstock said.

Iola’s street and alley crews have their salt trucks loaded and ready for action if snow and ice reach Iola — forecasts call for anything from a dusting to 3 inches — exacerbated by gusty north winds.

Schinstock said Iola crews will respond accordingly.

“It’ll be business as normal for us, if we don’t get a lot of ice or snow,” Schinstock said.

But cold weather affects more than traffic in Iola.

The last extended spell of brutally cold weather in February 2021 forced power companies to rely upon municipalities to generate a portion of their own electricity.

Iola’s generators are ready and able to be fired up at a moment’s notice, Schinstock said.

Likewise, the city has natural gas in storage to use if market prices spike from the cold.

“We’re hoping it doesn’t come to that,” Schinstock said.

ALLEN COUNTY road and bridge director Mark Griffith also has his crews ready to roll out before dawn Thursday, when the expected wintry weather hits.

Salt trucks with plows will be responsible for clearing 120 miles of county blacktop roads, with graders responsible for clearing gravel routes — about 900 miles worth.

Again, the duration of the precipitation will dictate the course of action, Griffith said.

His primary concern is the wind.

If temps are well below freezing, a dry snow will be more likely to drift, Griffith explained.

And if it gets really windy, the snow “will just blow right back on the road after you’ve plowed it,” he added.

He expected the county trucks to be on the road as early as 4 a.m. Thursday.

THE KANSAS Department of Transportation was set to send most of its drivers home at noon Wednesday so they can be fresh and ready for work overnight if needed, KDOT spokeswoman Priscilla Peterson said.

The Iola KDOT office has five snowplow operators on each shift, tasked with ensuring the U.S. highways are clear through Allen County and beyond.

The Iola trucks cover U.S. 169 from the K-39 intersection in Chanute to the U.S. 169-U.S. 159 intersection in Anderson County; U.S. 54 from Yates Center to Bronson; and U.S. 59 from the K-31 junction at Kincaid to the K-39 junction east of Chanute.

The predicted bitterly cold temperatures are taken into account as state trucks are dispatched, Peterson noted.

“With the extremely cold temperatures of this system, KDOT will not be able to pretreat” highways, she noted. “Also, straight road salt loses its melting capabilities at -6 degrees, so KDOT has to mix it with sand to help improve traction. The lower the pavement temperatures are below 15 degrees, the longer it takes for salt to work.”

KDOT crews will also pay attention to troublesome slick spots, such as at stop signs or hills, she continued.

“The goal is to clear the roads as quickly as possible and help people travel,” Peterson said. 

The storm’s arrival brings to mind the infamous 2009 winter storm that dumped several inches of snow across eastern Kansas on Christmas Eve, paralyzing traffic for the better part of two days afterward.

Forecasts call for the storm to move out by Thursday night, but with sub-zero temps possible until Saturday, and wind chill indices as cold as 40-below.