February 20, 2013 - 12:00 AM

City and county crews ready for storm

As a strong northwestern winter storm threatens to move into the Midwest, local road and emergency crews can only guess as to what they should expect. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t prepared.
Both Iola and Allen County have multiple plows, motor graders and salt-spreading trucks at their disposal. They expect the storm to move in this evening.
“I think this is going to be a nuisance more than anything else,” Public Works Director Bill King said. “I’m more worried about freezing rain than anything.”
He said Allen County is on the southern tip of the storm, and it is undetermined whether the majority of precipitation will be snow, sleet, freezing rain or just rain. Nonetheless, the crews are on-call and prepared to clear the roadways.
“We know the traffic has got to move,” King said. “We’ll do our best.”
He said it was important for the crews to be out and about two to three hours before people begin commuting to work. Midnight is an optimal time to begin, he said, due to a low amount of traffic on the roads. In the case of this storm, however, it isn’t likely to be over until the morning hours.
Iola Street and Alley Superintendent Dan Leslie said many factors come into consideration when dealing with hazardous roads, including the type of precipitation, the time of day and the amount of sunshine. He has come to expect the worst in any situation, especially in late-winter storms that are likely to produce more ice due to warmer temperatures.
“Any time they tell you it’s coming out of the four-corners area, you had better be ready,” Leslie said.
The city and the county both have 2-to-1 salt/rock mixtures prepared to spread on roadways. Leslie said the rock helps vehicles gain traction, while salt aids the melting process. He said salt is mainly effective in temperatures above 20 degrees, especially when the sun is out.
The city is also equipped with a calcium mixture, which is a bit more effective in colder temperatures. It is also more expensive — about $1 per gallon. King said the county is not currently equipped to spread the calcium mixture, and Leslie said the city will most likely avoid using it if not needed.
In addition to salt spreaders, the city and the county have plows and graders to dispatch. King said he have smaller trucks equipped with v-plows that are more maneuverable in the subdivisions and on smaller streets.
The county covers 180 miles of paved road, and the city about 75 miles. Both Leslie and King said their crews will be ready and on-call for the majority of the evening.
“We really don’t stop until it is cleared off, it is quite an operation out there,” King said.
Leslie said the city crews prioritize the highest traffic areas for street clearing. These areas include the square, due to the police department, fire department and sheriff’s department. They will also focus on clearing pathways to the hospital, and any area that an ambulance needs access to.
King said the county hits the highest traffic areas as well, old highway 169, as well as access roads to Humboldt. Bridges and overpasses are a focus, because they freeze over more quickly than roadways. They will also provide assistance to smaller communities as well, including LaHarpe, Savonburg and Elsmore.
Leslie said he does not expect to get much rest tonight, and neither do his crews.
“When we get a storm, pretty much everybody comes out,” he said.
King is praying for anything but freezing rain and ice as the storm moves in, as it provides the most difficult — and dangerous — environment to work in.
“I’d take a foot of snow any day over that ice,” King said.

FOR THOSE who need to travel during the evening or morning hours, it is important to plan ahead — or not travel at all.
“If you don’t have to go out, don’t go out,” said Pam Beasley, county emergency management director.
She said her crews are always prepared for any type of emergency when a winter storm comes through. Generally, it’s power outages when ice is involved.
“When an ice storm is coming in, it is always a possibility,” she said.
Following a 2:30 p.m. briefing with the National Weather Service on Tuesday afternoon, she said she was told to expect anywhere from one to five inches of snow, but mostly sleet and ice.
She said it is important for people to have plenty of food and water in case of an emergency. And if road travel is necessary, to pack an emergency kit, including blankets and water. A list of emergency kit items is available at
Leslie and King agreed that crews need space on roads to do their job. Leslie encouraged motorists to avoid passing any plows and give ample space when following behind.
“You are better off behind the plow than in front of it,” he joked.
Advice that Leslie and King shared immediately when asked how people could be prepared for icy roads was to slow down.
“If you don’t have to be out there, don’t be out there,” King said. “But if you do, slow down.”