Winter is here. . .where are the snow scrapers?
It wasn’t the first snowfall of the 2015-16 winter season but it was the most significant thus far. The snowstorm had people trying to remember where they put their ice and snow scrapers.
A mammoth winter storm had been forecast for the first part of last week, and the snow gods held true by starting to bring a winter blanket to most parts of Steele County by mid-day Monday, Dec. 28. By the end of the day on Tuesday, most accounts recorded 8-10 inches of snow with more falling in the Owatonna and surrounding areas.
“The snow slowed everything down but, all in all, people did well in allowing time to get to their destinations and by keeping their distance from other drivers,” said Steele County Sheriff Lon Thiele.
Thiele did not have a number of accidents his department investigated because of the snow but did say his department helped Minnesota State Troopers deal with crashes on Interstate 35.
Blooming Prairie Police Chief Greg Skillestad echoed Thiele’s report that drivers handled the conditions well, and many stayed away from the roadways because of the storm. “We only had one fender bender caused by the snow and there were no injuries reported to us,” said Skillestad.
“This storm was rather uneventful, and it just proves that people are learning to slow down for the road conditions,” Skillestad remarked.
Snow removal was a high priority for the Steele County Highway Department as it had 10 snow plow trucks and two motor graders on duty at mid-day to begin plowing the 366 miles of roadways the county maintains, reported Beth Brady, county highway maintenance manager.
“Our coverage area is like driving to Chicago,” Brady said.
County snow removal equipment was called in at 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 28, and returned to the roadways at 5 a.m. the next day. All trucks are equipped with front plows, an under body scraper, a wing and a sander. The motor graders were designated for high traffic routes with gravel roads.
Brady said windy conditions actually did road crews a favor by blowing much of the snow off some roadways. “We had a couple of inches to contend with rather than three feet,” she added.
Each county truck covers about 37-40 miles and depending on the heft of the snow, the job for each truck can be done in 4 to 4 ½ hours, Brady said. All county roads are “hit” at least twice, Brady stated. The county unveiled some new snow removal equipment this winter season, just putting a new truck and an upgraded 2012 motor grader into action.
“It’s Minnesota and snow removal is part of our mission, but we’ve been really fortunate in November and December to be able to do other things on the roadways rather than plowing snow,” Brady informed.
“We’ve been very busy with the storm,” said Darrick Schewe, owner of Darrick’s Preferred Auto of Blooming Prairie. His business did about 10 tows a day during the three-day monitoring of the snowfall and came to his shop by customers Googling on their phones.
Schewe said he had four trucks on the road with many of his calls being AAA generated. His service territory includes Blooming Prairie, Albert Lea, Austin, Dodge Center, Kasson and Hayfield.
Dean Wordelman, owner of Dean’s Westside Towing in Owatonna and Faribault, dispatched six of his tow/plow trucks during most of the day and said the snowfall was “a nice shot of adrenalin” for the company checkbook.
Benji Bishop, owner of Bishop Excavating of Blooming Prairie, agreed that snowfalls are good for the local economy. Bishop oversees snow removal jobs mostly in commercial areas. He said the snow brings out snowmobiles and more snow removal equipment.
Jeff Zwiener of Blooming Prairie has a snow removal business and said his jobs went well with the help of his son Dennis and son-in-law John Bruns. “They saved me another four hours of work,” Zwiener related. He estimated the snowfall in the seven to eight-inch category.
“We should be good for another five days,” he said.
Tom Sweet of Sweet Towing & Repair of Owatonna said his workers manning five trucks were busy around the clock with street plowing and towing. “Bad roads make our job a busy one,” he said.
“I’m leaving for a tow in Wisconsin Dells right now but 90 percent of our snow work (tows and plowing) is done in Steele County,” Sweet said. “I don’t worry about the weather. When it happens, it happens. I know it’s bad weather when I get awakened in the middle of the night.”
Fresh snow over ice can make snow removal a tougher job because it causes slippery conditions, admits Dean Wordelman of Dean’s Towing.
Because this latest storm came during daylight hours and on days other than a weekend, more professional drivers were on the roadways, making traffic flow more smoothly, Wordelman believes.
Wordelman said his trucks get called out in other than snowy conditions. He said he responded to a couple of serious crashes on Interstate 35 on Dec. 22 caused by icy conditions, one involving a fatal pickup truck crash and another involving a semi-truck. He said cable guard rails on the interstate medians are doing their job but end up “shredding” the vehicle, in one case a semi-trailer.
Watching weather reports can be “an exercise in frustration,” says Wordelman. “You can’t just twiddle your thumbs waiting for the snow to come,” he said.