Area challenged by heavy snow

By Tom Joyce

February 13, 2014

Mount Airy street crews were expecting to work throughout Wednesday night and all day today — as long as necessary — to deal with a winter storm that could total 14 inches by the time it runs its course this afternoon.

Meanwhile, the snow accumulation has prompted city police to abandon their familiar white Dodge Chargers and switch to four-wheel drive vehicles for patrols.

At last report, this area was to be under a weather storm warning until 6 p.m. today, as public service agencies around the county readied for the worst along with N.C. Department of Transportation crews.

Traffic was heavy at grocery stores and other local businesses Wednesday as residents stocked up food and other necessities. The first snowflakes fell in Mount Airy shortly after 1 p.m.

But while the bulk of Old Man Winter’s latest rendering might have surprised some residents, the situation has been on the radar screen of city Public Services Director Jeff Boyles since early in the week.

“We’ve been planning for this for the last couple of days,” Boyles said Wednesday.

“We’ll probably have 16 people working overnight,” he added in discussing the game plan for Wednesday night and beyond. “We plan to have crews working overnight and all day tomorrow — and longer if that’s what it takes.”

Municipal crews had already done some preparation even before the first snowflakes fell, as evidenced by white streaks left on the pavement. “We put down brine on the streets,” Boyles said of an advance move expected to pay dividends later. More brine was pumped into trucks and ready to go Wednesday.

Now that it has arrived, crews are manning equipment such as snowplows, salt trucks, backhoes to clear parking lots and a motor grader to cover the downtown section, Boyles said.

Mount Airy also is well-stocked from a supply standpoint, he said. “We keep about a hundred tons of salt on hand at any time,” Boyles added, with five salt trucks available as well.

Fortunately, ice is not an issue, as was the case for the area’s last snowfall in January. It measured 1.8 inches in Mount Airy, with sub-freezing temperatures exacerbating the impact on travel conditions.

Boyles described the latest storm as “more of a plowing event than a salting event.”

City public works crews had been told to stay home from their regular shift on Wednesday in order to rest up in anticipation of some long hard hours ahead.

Boyles said the public should be patient and assured that city crews are doing everything they can to allow necessary travel.

Police Geared Up

The general advice to the motoring public from both Boyles and Mount Airy Police Chief Dale Watson is essentially the same:

People should stay off the roads, “if at all possible,” Watson said, and those who do venture out should have a plan, and a contingency plan, to deal with potential problems. “Do what is necessary to protect you and your families,” the police chief advised.

Less vehicles also can aid the street-clearing process, Boyles pointed out. “Stay off the road and give us time to do our job,” the public services official said.

“One of the biggest problems (for crews) is dealing with spectators and people playing,” Boyles added of snowstorm aftermaths.

With the expected heavy snow accumulation, Chief Watson said the decision was made to call in four-wheel-drive vehicles to ensure that police will be able to respond to any call for service. “And we’ll have additional officers on standby,” he said.

The regular Dodge Chargers officers use are two-wheel drive vehicles, the police chief said, which face problems in deep snow.

One of the four-wheel-drive units is displaying the regular police department logos, while others are bearing the city seal and some are unmarked, Watson said.

“During times like this, we play more of a role than law enforcement,” said the police chief, who emphasized that officers are available to assist with a variety of weather-related needs.

Break Seen

Boyles said the planning process for major weather events by his department is aided by a lot of modern tools.

“We’ve got a lot more resources than our predecessors had,” Boyles said, mentioning the Internet and other tracking sources. The city also relies on Duke Energy for key information.

The up-to-date forecast Wednesday was providing consolation to Boyles, including a possible high of 37 today after an expected overnight low this morning in the mid-20s.

Boyles is “encouraged” by forecasts of a warming trend Friday and Saturday with temperatures in the 40s.

The police chief was philosophical about the weather situation, and the rare opportunity for area residents to experience nature’s splendor.

“Stay at home and enjoy,” he said.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.