A little under two weeks ago, on the heels of a projected ice storm that turned out to be far less severe than forecasts had predicted, Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley stated that Pulaski County had "dodged a bullet."
A few days later, it was hit with Mother Nature's bazooka.
The week-long deep freeze that Pulaskians are only now digging themselves out from under as temperatures rose over the weekend pushed local road crews to their limits. As plow trucks cleared roads of around four or more inches of snow and salted treacherously slick surfaces, other agencies coordinated to make runs to those trapped inside, delivering medicine or taking them to dialysis appointments.
"It's been a real challenge, especially with 3/4 of an inch of ice, compacted with three or four inches of snow," said Deputy Judge-Executove Dan Price.
"We're really fortunate with our Emergency Operations Center and our mutual aid agreement with the city, state and county, and South Kentucky RECC — we've been able to work together collectively," he continued. "There were several thousands of people without electric for a substantial period of time, substantial tree damage, trees fallen in the roads. Right now, we're set up to combat this size of a storm, if not a larger one."
If there's a plus to come out of this arctic experience, it's that the county has been tested and knows what they need to do — and what they're capable of. Winter weather events like this are relatively rare in Pulaski County — the last to be quite so drastic was in 2016 — and so all of the preparation that county officials put in place at other times of the year was finally called upon. As such, Price is pleased with how Pulaski County performed.
"We're set up (for anything similar in the future)," he said. "We'll go back through debriefings and look at things objectively, where we can get better, and try to improve our strategy to a point. But definitely, we're more set up to (handle a severe winter weather event)."
In recent years, the county has boasted of vast supplies of salt, little of which was used as roads were only lightly affected. However, the county's supply was nearly shot as the week dragged on, and reinforcements had to be obtained.
"That Friday (before last week), we were down to about 350 tons (of salt)," said Price. "We ran through that starting Monday. We had one more load (about 100 tons to distribute to every truck in the fleet one more time) before we came in Thursday with private contractors. We were able to bring in another 250 tons. We are set (now)."
Price explained that the county has a contract with Morton Salt, but the company wasn't able to deliver the product at the point the county needed it, so they had to go find "independent contractors" to bring more.
Even this Monday morning, as the snow and ice had largely melted around the county, crews were still out cleaning up areas that still had significant coverage and ice/snow weight damage.
"The Bend of the Lakes (Road area) was really bad. Places like Cedar Grove, Cabin Hollow," said Price. "Elevation really made a difference. For instance, in Cabin Hollow you had more downed trees; one road in Cedar Grove had 18 trees that were down. (The elevation caused) more dense fog, more precipitation. ... I told a friend of mine, living out in the county is great, but sometimes you pay a price."
Compounding the challenge was a tricky catch-22: With "more doomsdayers" about, noted Price, more people have generators ready in case of an emergency, which helped as power went out in various places all over the county. But "if they don't have the generators set up properly ... they can produce electric back out to the power lines and that makes it even more dangerous for the electric workers," said Price. So that contributed to the long waits many people experienced waiting for their power to be restored, some lasting most of the week.
"There are more precautions than ever before," said Price. "It's a good thing that there are so many checks and balances for people working on the ground, to make sure it's safe. But it is challenging."
Price had praise for those who spent all week working in hazardous conditions to make things safer and better for Pulaski's citizens.
"They certainly deserve it," he said when asked if road crews were getting rest as this week began. "We were even running a pretty good crew Saturday. When we're looking at 2,300 road miles, it's easy to miss roads in a particular area, so we were playing catch-up Saturday and Sunday to make sure we touched everything, but really, it's a wonderful group, (numbering) 45 altogether from maintenance to the road department. I always say it's amazing what a good group of people working together can get accomplished when no one worries about the credit."