GREENSBURG — At around 8:30 p.m., Tuesday, the Decatur County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) formally set the county’s winter-weather travel advisory level to Orange – essential travel only.
As of this writing Wednesday evening, that’s where the level remains.
Despite more than 24 hours of “essential travel only,” however, according to EMA director Rob Duckworth, there have been only four vehicle crashes and slide-offs involving property damage in that same timeframe.
Greensburg Chief of Police Stacey Chasteen reported an even a lower number of weather-related vehicle incidents – one slide off since the Orange alert was declared, with no injuries involved.
For Duckworth, the low level of winter-related vehicular incidents suggests the EMA’s message to residents is being heard – and adhered to – loud and clear.
The director added that the advisory level will likely be dropped fairly soon.
“As of 1 p.m. [Wednesday],” he explained, “road crews have been through all the primary and secondary roads and are getting started on the tertiary routes.”
With this latest round of wintery weather, Duckworth has so far been favorably impressed with the numbers of vehicles he’s seen and encountered on local roads.
Chasteen echoed that assessment. “I think people who ARE on the roads are being extra cautious. But overall, there doesn’t seem to be much traffic. School’s out and local activities have been postponed or cancelled, so there just aren’t that many vehicles, which makes it much easier for us [Greensburg Police] and for road crews.”
Duckworth hopes residents will continue limiting their travel until conditions clear. Although no additional significant snowfall is forecast again for the area until Saturday – roughly one inch – Duckworth reminded drivers to keep in mind that extreme cold is forecast for the next several days. “The snow isn’t going anywhere for a while,” he said. “Just because it doesn’t snow, doesn’t mean roads have improved.”
Residents should keep in mind, too, that even more snow is forecast for less than a week from now. “The forecast is calling for between one and three inches for next Tuesday,” he said, meaning residents should continue carefully planning their travel and considering what trips are necessities and which aren’t.
“I think it’s important for people to make travel plans for the next day the night before,” he said. “We recommend residents carpool with people who own vehicles designed for this weather. We’ll try to clear all the roadways as soon as possible, but sometimes that’s difficult.”
“If you absolutely must go out,” Chasteen added, “be extremely cautious. And if you don’t need to go anywhere, stay inside.”
Duckworth also recommended residents stay with family or friends who live closer to the destination to which they must travel for the next few day.
“We understand everybody doesn’t have those options,” he said, “but for those that do, it can put significantly less burden on the system, making travel safer for everyone concerned.”
With this latest snowstorm, the county was fortunate in at least one sense, Duckworth noted: snow fell and accumulated before the ice storm started. “That’s why you get that ‘crunch’ on this latest snowfall – because the ice fell on top of it.”
Had the ice fallen first, roads would be significantly more difficult to clear. Still, the ice is creating an extra burden on snow-removal vehicles. “It’s quite a bit heavier than normal,” Duckworth said. “And our removal vehicles are using significantly more gas.”
Residents needn’t worry, however, about the county’s salt and sand supplies. While the director acknowledged that supplies have run low this winter (as of last month, the county had used as much as it usually uses in an entire winter), he assured residents that new supplies have been acquired. He also clarified that sand supplies aren’t an issue, as sand is relatively easy to obtain; salt is a different matter.
“We’ve located a secondary supplier and acquired an additional amount [of salt],” the director explained. “We paid more for it than our bid rate, because it fell outside of our normal contract, but we have 150 tons of sand and salt, with a two-to-one ratio of sand to salt.”
Decatur County highway superintendent Mark Mohr confirmed that amount, adding that the county also has an additional 55 tons of pure salt on hand, which hasn’t yet been mixed with sand. The county paid top dollar for it for the extra salt – about two times the normal rate for a contracted supply. Mohr added, however, that, from a safety standpoint, it was money well spent. He also assured Decatur Countians that he and his crew are using the available supply as conservatively as possible.
Mohr and his crews work round the clock to keep county roads and highways as clear as possible, with each shift lasting 12 hours. All county roads, he added have been plowed, with spotty snowpack still remaining on some roads.
He cautioned drivers that, just because they see a significant amount of pavement or the road seems clear, doesn’t mean the road is safe for normal speeds. One never knows, after all, when he or she will round a curve or come over a hill lined with a thick patch of ice.
That’s why Mohr and his crew focus mainly on hills, curves and intersections. “We won’t necessarily clear all the ice from a straight stretch of road. We’re concerned with hills, intersections and curves and that’s pretty much how we’ve done it for the 18 years I’ve been here.”
Mohr agreed it’s possible his department could weather the winter without needing to buy additional salt. Given the brutal weather the county has endured so far, however, and the amount of winter yet remaining, Mohr didn’t sound optimistic.
Greensburg street commissioner Mark Klosterkemper said the city is in a slightly better position regarding salt supplies. Klosterkemper hasn’t yet exhausted the city’s contracted salt supply for this year. Additionally, Klosterkemper started the season with significant reserves from last year. He estimated that, between those reserves and this year’s remaining salt, he’s still got 35 percent of his total supply left. He agreed with Mohr’s assessment that, given the right weather conditions, his department could last the winter without buying additional salt.
Klosterkemper’s biggest problem at the moment is the delay in supply from his current, contracted supplier. Demand is so high everywhere this winter, he said, suppliers can’t keep up.
The severity of the current winter is also taking a toll of snow-clearing equipment, with repair and maintenance bills being higher than normal.
“My guys are tired, too,” he added. “We’re getting an awful lot of practice clearing streets this year, but we’re muddling through.”
Contact: Rob Cox 812-663-3111 x7011; email@example.com