Commonwealth Journal

March 3, 2014

Overnight ice not so nice

Pulaski blasted by winter storm

by Chris Harris
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

Most of the time, March is said to come in like a lion. This time, however, it was more like a polar bear.
For all the thrashing winter has given Pulaski County this year, it’s rarely done quite so severe a number on the roads as local residents saw Monday upon waking up.
The area had seen the winter weather trifecta — freezing rain (which leads to ice), sleet (which results in annoying pings against the window while you sleep), and snow (which results in a sloppy — if occasionally beautiful — mess). 
If there’s a silver lining, it’s this: All those warnings to stay off the roads, and that mad dash to the grocery store that made the aisles look like Grand Central Station — it was all worth it. Because Pulaski emerged from the arctic blast mostly unscathed.
“Overall, we’ve had an uneventful morning and day so far,” said Capt. Shannon Smith of the Somerset Police Department.
Indeed, SPD had worked only one traffic collision, according to Smith, and that was in a parking lot — not even on the roads.
The Pulaski County 911 Emergency Center reported to the Commonwealth Journal that by 2:45 p.m., there had been no calls of wrecks on the road come through the dispatch.
Considering the slickness of the roads, that has to be considered a minor miracle — and a testament to the citizenry heeding good caution.
“I think everybody did their part and measured whether they really need to get out on the roadways,” said Smith. “There’s a lot of people who went to the grocery store (Sunday night) and stockpiled. That helped a lot too.”
According to Kevin Sullivan, meteorologist with the National Weather Service Office in Jackson, Ky., Sunday’s dreary day-long shower transitioned into freezing rain between 10 and 11 p.m. That then metamorphosed into sleet shortly after midnight, and again into snow at around 5 a.m.
“You had a pretty long period of sleet across most of the area,” he said. “There was a quarter inch of freezing rain in Pulaski County, and a quarter inch of ice. The sleet underneath the snow made it very heavy, hard to shovel.”
To the north, Rockcastle County saw 5.8 inches of snow, a hefty amount to be sure. Pulaski got around three inches of accumulation of combined snow and sleet, said Sullivan. The long period of sleet cut down on the amount of snow this area might have gotten.
Earlier in the week, NWS forecasters suggested the direction of the low pressure system could influence how much snow Pulaski saw. Sullivan said that the system went south, allowing for more sleet in the area.
Along with the ice and sleet were predicted power outages and downed tree limbs. And while there were some, Pulaski County Public Safety Director Tiger Robinson said they weren’t too much of a problem.
“The county road department (took care of) most of the downed trees,” he said Monday afternoon. “We haven’t had any wrecks or injuries that I’ve been made aware of. It’s been a pretty good day so far.”
Cliff Feltham, a spokesperson for Kentucky Utilities, said that he hadn’t been made aware of any power outages in Pulaski County for his company, and across the state, saw only about 400 or so.
“That’s not bad, based on what they were telling us was going to be in the forecast,” he said.
As for South Kentucky RECC, spokesperson Joy Bullock said that the weather conditions made it more difficult to fix some of the outages that did occur.
“The weather this morning hampered our efforts,” she said Monday afternoon. “It wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. We got lucky. It could have been worse.”
South Kentucky RECC continued working throughout the day Monday on outages caused by the winter storm; by mid-afternoon, approximately 2300 members were without power across the system. At peak, there were 4,000 affected by outages.
The power drains began around 3 a.m. and were primarily caused by ice breaking tree limbs on lines and there was some wind damage. Crews were out by 3:30 a.m.
SKRECC V-P of Engineering Dennis Holt says restoration continues as quickly as possible.
“While the weather and road conditions are hampering restoration efforts, our crews have worked for about six hours, and they will continue to work until everyone is restored. We appreciate the patience and kindness our members have shown to us during this outage situation.”
Holt added that people can track outages at the South Kentucky RECC outage center on www.skrecc.com, as well as get information via Facebook and Twitter.
 While county government offices and the courthouse were open on Monday, Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler had the city shut down its offices and they will do so again Tuesday morning because of the lingering effects of the storm (Judge-Executive Barty Bullock wasn’t sure at the time of his interview whether or not the county would close on Tuesday). The exception for the city will be emergency and essential personnel.
“It went real well,” he said of the reaction to the storm. “The ice and snow on top hung quite a few people up (but) the snow (Monday) morning covered up the ice, helping us avoid a lot of accidents. People drove slowly, carefully.”
At 10 p.m. Sunday night, Girdler had all city departments bring in equipment to help with the expected snow and sleet event, including the water, sewer and gas departments, working with vehicles like backhoes. 
Girdler noted that local company Modern Vending had trouble getting their semi-trucks in and out, so the city pitched in and helped them out.
The city’s fuel center did experience a power outage and was unable to provide fuel to the vehicles, so the city had to make other arrangements, said Girdler.
The Pulaski County Road Department was out at 1 a.m., said Barty Bullock, though the rapid snowfall made things difficult for them in clearing off roadways. 
“It was snowing as fast as they could clean it off,” he said. “They’re out they’re trying.”
Amber Hale, information officer for District 8 of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said that ice had made road treatments more difficult this time on the nearly 600 lane miles they cover.
“Ice is harder to combat that snow,” she said. “We started sending trucks out at roughly about 9:30 p.m.”
With temperatures dropping into single digits overnight, there will be no thaw on Tuesday morning, and the roads are expected to ice up again. As such, officials suggest everyone exercise the same precautions and wariness of traveling that they did early Monday.
“The problem will be when everything freezes again and people think it’s clear and venture out,” said Smith. “If you don’t need to go, stay in. It’s the safest way of approaching weather like this.”
There is hope on the horizon, though: Tuesday’s high will be 39 degrees during the day, though it may take a “good chunk” of it to get that high according to Sullivan, and by Wednesday, the area could see a high of 47 degrees.
“Eventually we’ll get there,” said Sullivan, “so it should help.”