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Highway crews dealt with icy roads

Light snowfall causes cancellations, crashes

December 16, 2010|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com
  • Passers-by on Interstate 81 check on the driver of a vehicle that rolled over near the Cearfoss Pike exit on Thursday.
Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

As if the slew of car crashes from Thursday's snowstorm was not enough, highway crews were dealing with their own problem Thursday night: how to free roads from an icy grip.

The 1.2 inches of snow that fell in Hagerstown Thursday was packed onto roads by vehicles throughout the day, and with the temperature hovering around 17 degrees Thursday night, salt was doing little good, said Edwin Plank, director of the Washington County Highways Department.

Such situations make road clearing dicey, Plank said. Removing snow in such cold conditions can leave a slick surface underneath, he said.

And although it would seem that removing snow would be the obvious thing to do, sometimes snow gives motorists some traction in cold conditions, Plank said.

So, what's a snowplow driver to do?

"It's one of those calls that you're damned if you do, damned if you don't," Plank said.

In some cases Thursday night, snow was being left on roads in subdivisions, and salt was being applied on top of it, Plank said.

Plank said he is hoping that, along with temperatures forecasted to rise into the 30s today, the sun will break through the clouds and let the salt do its work.

 While Plank and others said that main roads— including Interstates 81 and 70 — were passable Thursday night, back roads were still a problem.

Although weather conditions eased enough to allow a snow emergency plan for Washington County to be lifted at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, the wintry conditions were still affecting schools.

Public schools in Berkeley, Morgan and Jefferson counties will be on a two-hour delay today, officials said.

The snow that fell across the Tri-State region Thursday closed some schools early, canceled activities and was blamed for numerous car crashes.

All of the trucks in the county's highway department's fleet — about 33 — were plowing and salting roads, Plank said.

At about 1 p.m., there was a vehicle collision on westbound I-70 near the 15-mile marker that involved an overturned tractor trailer. The crash forced the closure of one lane and the shoulder, which were reopened about 4:50 p.m., state police said.

During one 15-minute period, calls for seven accidents on area interstates and Washington County roads were heard being dispatched in the county.

A total of 1.2 inches of snow fell in Hagerstown, according to Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer's website at i4weather.net. One inch of snow fell in Smithsburg, according to smithsburgweather.com.

When the snow emergency plan is in effect, Maryland law requires motorists to operate vehicles that are equipped with snow tires as designated by the manufacturer or equipped with chains. Studded tires are allowed from Nov. 1 through March 31.

While a snow emergency is in effect, motorists may not park vehicles on any highway designated as a snow emergency route.

Across Maryland Thursday, more than 1,400 people were actively fighting the storm, according to the State Highway Administration.

With salt less effective when temperatures drop, highway workers in some areas were pretreating the salt with brine or liquid magnesium chloride, which increases its effectiveness at lower temperatures, the highway administration said.

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