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Road, utility crews get ready for big snow

8 to 12 inches possible

March 05, 2013|By CALEB CALHOUN | caleb.calhoun@herald-mail.com

In preparation for a winter storm that was expected to move into the Tri-State area Tuesday evening, road crews were pre-treating the roads, plow trucks were positioned in key locations, and utility workers from three companies in Ohio were on the way to the area. 

The Maryland State Highway Administration on Tuesday was pre-treating secondary roads in Washington County, including Maryland and U.S. numbered routes, with salt brine, according to an email from SHA District Community Liaison Heather Keels. Trucks spray water with melted salt on the road to help prevent ice and snow from sticking to the pavement.

“This allows SHA crews to be ahead of the game and reduces overall salt usage,” Keels said in the email. “We have four contract spray-rigs with 3,000 gallon tanks that apply the brine in a 10-foot swath at a rate of 40-50 gallons per lane mile.”

The trucks are not pre-treating the interstates because they would have to do the work at a speed too slow for the normal flow of traffic, Keels said. 

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After the snow begins to accumulate, Keels said the SHA will have plow trucks and a snow blower if necessary to clear the snow. The SHA has 25 plow trucks and 53 contractor plows in Washington County, Keels said. It maintains 276 miles of roadway in Washington County, but when accounting for miles per lane, that works out to 750 miles, Keels said.  

“We will have our plowing crews out in full force, but it’s important to remember that if we do get the amount of accumulation that’s predicted, it will take several hours before bare pavement is feasible, so if you can avoid travel (Wednesday), please do so,” Keels said. “If not, make sure you take it slow, leave lots of following distance, and never pass a snow plow.”

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for the area, and forecast calls for 8 to 12 inches of snow to fall in the region before the storm moves out Wednesday night. 

Washington County Highway Department Director Ed Plank said that the department has tentative plans to send out all 36 plow trucks at midnight Tuesday to their designated locations throughout the county to plow the snow and salt the roads. That time could change depending on how bad the weather gets, he said.

The department is also prepared to send out an additional 10 to 12 emergency crews this morning to deal with any trees and wires brought down by the storm, along with heavy equipment, which includes six rubber tire loaders and three large graders if the snow keeps piling up.

“Wet snow is hard to handle because it’s hard to maneuver,” Plank said. “You can’t control wet snow. It kind of goes where it wants to go.”

The Washington County Highway Department maintains more than 800 miles of roadway when accounting for miles per each lane, Diane Mongan of the department said. 

In the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, the West Virginia Division of Highways is using salt brine to pre-treat the interstates, state and U.S. numbered roads, and paved secondary roads off those roads that have high volumes of traffic, District Maintenance Engineer Barry Knotts said.

The agency also has plans to position plow trucks in locations that might be more heavily affected by the snow, Knotts said.

“It’s better to have a truck on site than to plow its way through the storm,” he said. 

To deal with potential electrical issues, FirstEnergy Corp. utility crews from Ohio Edison, Toledo Edison, and Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. are all on the way from Ohio to the area, Potomac Edison spokesman Todd Meyers said. About one-third of the crews will stay in the Cumberland, Md., area, and two-thirds of the crews will stay in hotels around the Hagerstown area. 

“Having a larger contingency in the Hagerstown area will allow them to run down I-81 to West Virginia, move east to Frederick, and work in Washington County,” Meyers said. “Hazard responders will be in position (Tuesday) evening.”

The company will send a hazard responder to locations where wires are reported down to keep people safe and assess the damage, Meyers said. Eventually a lineman will come out and, if it is an energized line, cut it. The lineman then may leave the scene due to the fact that the company has to prioritize where to focus on restoring power.

Crews first have to make sure the transmissions and substations, which move electricity to the regions, are working first. Then they focus on getting power restored to public safety areas such as police or fire departments as well as hospitals and nursing homes. After that, they will look at all the outages, and work on the lines that affect the most customers first.

Preparing for power outages

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