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Cold conditions make work difficult for road crews

December 10, 2002|by TAMELA BAKER

tamelab@herald-mail.com

TRI-STATE - The weather outside was frightful - and frightfully cold.

On average, temperatures so far this month have been below normal every day, and in one case set a record.

After the season's first winter storm dropped about 8 inches of snow on the region last Thursday, temperatures over the weekend dipped to a record low of 1 degree Saturday morning - breaking the previous 9-degree record for Dec. 7 set in 1910. Sunday's low tied the 1937 record of 13 degrees for Dec. 8, according to the local weather observer Greg Keefer's Web site.

Temperatures warmed to 44 degrees by late Sunday morning, melting some of the snow that fell Thursday.

Temperatures dipped below freezing again Monday, and the National Weather Service was calling for a high of 38 degrees today.

The region may be in for a wintry mix of freezing rain and ice tonight and Wednesday morning.

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Washington County Director of Highways Ted Wolford said his department was monitoring the weather and "ready for whatever comes."

Last week's snowstorm brought out all 34 of the county's snow removal trucks and another 25 contractors who plow snow for the county, Wolford said. Even so, crews were clearing roads for about 12 hours after the snow stopped late Thursday afternoon.

Many workers "were basically out for 24 or 25 hours," Wolford said. "When they left for the day Wednesday, we told them they had to report back to work at midnight." Wolford said operations ran smoothly for the most part. There were a few complaints, he said, mainly because "a lot of roads have traffic on them before we can get to them."

The chill that followed the snowstorm made clearing the roads more difficult, said Donnie Dillow, acting supervisor of the Department of Highways in Jefferson County, W.Va.

"Usually at this time of year the temperatures aren't as bad as they were," Dillow said. "But it got so bitter cold and the snow got packed down so bad. Salt only works to a certain temperature. Then it refreezes."

Dillow said his two 11-member crews have been working in 12-hour shifts since 7 p.m. Wednesday, and Jefferson County roads were "about 95 percent cleared" by Monday. Crews will be on standby tonight, armed with a salt and gravel mixture to tackle their assigned routes if the icy conditions materialize.

Crews in Berkeley County, W.Va., finished clearing roads Sunday, according to Department of Highways Assistant Supervisor Mark Baker. He said primary and secondary roads were clear, and crews have been working on "orphan roads" - roads his department has adopted because no other agency was maintaining them.

Baker said the cold temperatures made work difficult for his two 12-member crews, "but eventually we always win."

Waynesboro, Pa., Superintendent of Maintenance Dennis Benshoff said he was keeping an ear on the weather scanner for ice or snow and that his seven crew members "will be ready for either one."

While Wolford was ready for precipitation tonight, he said he'd rather deal with snow than freezing rain. "Ice is more costly" to remove, he said, because "snow is mostly just plowing. With ice there's more treatment required to melt it."

Residents can help by staying off the roads until they're treated and cleared, he said.

The nasty weather should be brief, however. If the current forecast holds, temperatures should climb into the mid-40s on Thursday and Friday.

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