'It's been an odd year' for city plowing
Rain and snow.
The combination has resulted in a difficult year so far for snow removal in the city of Janesville.
"With the wet nature of everything and then the very cold temps, it's been a rough year," said John Whitcomb, operations director.
Wet, heavy snow has bonded to pavement. Rain has turned to snow and water to ice.
"Even the snows, with maybe one or two exceptions, have been wet, heavy snow, followed by temps below freezing," Whitcomb said.
"During one event, we had snow, then it rained an inch, and then we had a blizzard, and then it froze. It's been an odd year."
Janesville in 2013 budgeted $1.2 million for seven full-plow operations and 26 chemical-spreading operations, Whitcomb said.
Costs so far likely are creeping near that amount, Whitcomb said.
"We've still got the rest of March and November and December to squeeze into this annual budget," Whitcomb said. "But it is what it is. It snows, and we have to respond."
The rain and resulting ice has required a lot of follow-up work, and the city also has used more salt than usual, Whitcomb said.
Whitcomb estimates crews are close to using about 5,000 tons of salt. Average use for an entire year is between 4,000 and 5,000 tons.
So far, the city has had:
-- Six citywide plowing operations, not including Tuesday's. Only one of those was in January.
-- Once, crews plowed only arterial and collector streets.
-- Crews eight times were dispatched to spread salt on arterial streets, hills, bus routes, school areas and on curves.
-- Crews treated a portion of the routes with salt four times.
-- Twice a salt/sand mixture was applied to certain residential streets.
It takes crews about 10 hours to plow the entire city, and workers start on the main streets.
This year, by the time plows got to residential streets, the snow had already bonded to the pavement because of high moisture followed by low temperatures, Whitcomb said. In those instances, the blades ride right over top of the packed and bonded snow.
"There's only so much you can do with hard-packed snow that's become ice on a residential street," Whitcomb said.
"The good thing about March and late February, the sun is really a city employee," Whitcomb said. Snow doesn't stick around on the streets for long.
This is Whitcomb's 13th year as operations director, and he said he'll never forget the 100 inches of snow the city received in the 2008-09 season. Still, he can't recall a season when the city has experienced this much rain and consistently wet snow.
He has seen similar patterns in the last few years.
"I don't know if this is the new normal or not," Whitcomb said.
Last year was a much better budget year, and the city's snow removal budget returned $243,509 to the general fund after spending about $1 million for plowing.
Marcia Cronce, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sullivan, said the area has a quiet week ahead. Temperatures are forecast in the 40s by the end of the week, and possibly even warmer on Sunday.
Precipitation is forecast for Saturday night and Sunday, but the higher temperatures should keep that in the form of rain, she said.
"Keep in mind it's March, and anything can happen between now and May," Cronce said.
Ben Coopman, Rock County highway commissioner, said the county had spent 67 percent of its 2013 snow budget through Monday. When November and December 2013 are included, Coopman figures the area is about 60 percent through snow removal for the year.
The 2013 budget is $1.91 million, and the county has spent about $1.18 million so far, Coopman said.
Most of the snow so far came in February, and most of that was on the weekends, Coopman said. That meant overtime for crews.
"For awhile, our crews worked five or six weekends in a row," Coopman said. "There were no days off in there."
Coopman said pavement temperatures were in the low 30s on Tuesday, so salt and heat appeared to be melting snow after the pavement was bare.
Blowing and drifting, especially in rural areas, were the big issues for county crews, Coopman said.
"We're really struggling with a few of those," he said.
Crews were being dispatched with heavy equipment to keep two narrow lanes open, he said.