After a winter that has been light on precipitation, southwest Wisconsin saw its first major snowstorm of the season this past weekend. According to those involved in assisting in emergencies, and cleaning up what Mother Nature through our way, things went pretty well.
Between Saturday evening and Sunday evening, the region received anywhere between six and more-than-10 inches of snow, coinciding with blustery winds that caused drifting throughout Grant County.
With plenty of advance notice, and coinciding with Super Bowl weekend, however, emergency calls to the Grant County Sheriff’s Office were no greater than if it were a normal weekend, with most of the calls coming were due to vehicle slide-offs.
According to Sheriff Nate Dreckman, 45 calls came in over the weekend related to the snow storm. Of those calls, 33 were for slide-offs where there was no damage to the vehicle, while 10 involved some sort of property damage.
Only two calls involved minor injuries.
“I would say average, given the day of the week the storm hit,” Dreckman said of the volume. “If it would have hit during the week, then it would have been a different story.”
Still, 45 calls over the course of 24 hours does present a challenge, as officers do respond to make sure the occupants are safe and make sure there is no damage.
Across the street from the sheriff’s office, at the Grant County Highway Department, Highway Commissioner Dave Lambert said that the department prepared everything for the weekend storm ahead of time - the trucks were put away Friday with a load of salt on and the gas tanks full, in anticipation of the storm.
“After that we just wait until it starts snowing,” quipped Lambert.
The highway department had various workers monitoring the storm, as well as being in constant contact with the sheriff’s office to monitor the progress of the storm during the weekend. “We have a new computer program, from the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation that helps us to guess when the storm will hit, how much snow will fall and how hard the wind will blow,” Lambert added.
The snowplowing crews first went out around 7 p.m. on Saturday night, staying out there for two-to-three hours, except for those on the 24-hour roads, who stayed out all night, all day Sunday and all night again on Sunday night, finally again on Monday morning. The 24-hour roads are assigned two patrolmen, who take a maximum of 12-hour shifts.
The other crews returned to service at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning, worked until 9 p.m., then returning at 4 a.m. on Monday morning.
“The sun came out on Monday, the wind died down and the men were able to go home at around noon or so,” Lambert surmised.
Lambert noted that things did not go perfectly smooth, however, as there was a collision during plowing. A car was approaching an oncoming snowplow and slowed to meet it. A car following the first car couldn’t slow in time and went into a slide, crossed the centerline and collided with a county snowplow.
Both the driver of the car and the driver of the plow were taken to the hospital. The snowplow driver was released but is very sore.
Lambert noted that there was very little damage to the plow, but the car suffered significant damage.
“We have 24 men with trucks out at a time to push the snow,” Lambert explained. “A couple mechanics are in the shop during odd hours and four during regular hours. Four motor graders went out to help push back the drifts that the trucks could not move. A couple of supervisors to oversee the work. The Sheriff’s Department also helps keep an eye on any problems for us. Everyone works together.”
In Cassville, despite receiving the largest amount of snow of anywhere in the area, crews were quick to clean up the white stuff, noted Public Works Director Mark Bartels, clearing all of the snow from the downtown areas by Monday afternoon.
Meanwhile in Lancaster, Public Works Director John Hauth stated that like other departments, the end of last week was spent prepping equipment for the incoming storm.
On Saturday night, Hauth conferred with Lead Street Maintenance Worker Scott Reuter, deciding to see how much snow would fall by 4 a.m.
“We discussed just plowing the driving lanes on residential streets and the entire width of priority streets or plowing everything for the full width,” Hauth recalled.
“If this would have come on a weekday we would have kept plowing because of the traffic but Sunday is much quieter,” Hauth added.
With crews prepped to start before 5 a.m. and five plows were out until 10:30 a.m., taking a break as wind and still-falling snow continued.
Priority streets were plowed again during the afternoon.
In addition to the streets, one parks department employee came in on Sunday to clear the sidewalks that needed to be cleared around the city hall and theater, police station and fire station, which took two hours.
On Monday morning, all five plow units were back on the streets at 1 a.m. and all streets were cleared by 8 a.m.. Outlying areas that were drifted took extra time to clear so a couple of plows worked on this until about 11.
City crews then prepped for snow removal duties Monday night/Tuesday morning. All the plows were removed from the trucks, and an industrial snow blower unit was installed on one of the loaders.
Starting at 11 p.m. Monday night, all six members of the Public Works Department, as well as a member of the water department worked on clearing the streets (the streets department is down one person at the moment).
In addition, two contracted dump trucks were brought in to help in the hauling.
Working their way from the downtown out, crews worked until 9 a.m. clearing snow from the streets.
Budgets, equipment in good shape
This time last year, many municipalities and the highway department were in the midst of heavy storms striking the area, leaving salt sheds empty, and budgets drained for the remaining portion of the season.
This winter, things are looking much better.
Lambert noted that the budget is in good shape on the county level, and if there is any leftover funds by the end of the season, they will go into the road construction budget. “We are always short there.”
Hauth echoed those sentiments, although cautioned things are not over yet this winter. “That could change quickly though,” Hauth said. “As far as salt we have not even emptied our shed and last year we were looking for salt at this time because we were out. We have not had any major break downs this season with snow removal equipment, we have a spare plow unit if needed.”