The strategy for dealing with this week’s winter storm has been a bit like a diet: While the snow and ice is raising people’s blood pressure, the response from crews on the road has been decidedly low in salt.
“We’re good on salt supply; we’ve not used a lot of salt,” said David Hargis, Street Department Superintendent for the City of Somerset. “Most of this, we’ve had to plow off. It doesn’t make sense to salt and then plow it again.”
Amber Hale, information officer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 8 office in Somerset, had a similar report.
“We’re doing excellent on salt; we didn’t use a whole lot of it during this event, particularly on Monday,” she said. “We put out a thin layer Sunday prior to the event, and started backing off. The snow Monday was coming at such a fast rate and we were having to plow so much, it would have just been wasting material.”
It’s been frequently observed during Winter Storm Octavia’s ruthless rampage through Kentucky — particularly in light of the wickedly low temperatures inflicted upon the area on Thursday, when even the daytime was spent in single digits — that salt is ineffective in extreme cold.
But it’s been the nature of the early snow — thick, soft, and fluffy — and what the snow has become that has also rendered the salt less than productive.
“What’s out there now is like concrete,” said Hargis, “so we have to work hard to get it off.”
That hard work earned high praise from Hargis for those in his charge.
“They’re getting tired. They’ve worked a lot of hours this week,” he said. “They have performed brilliantly. The equipment has held up, and they’ve been here all through the duration.”
Seven trucks are out on the road, said Hargis, covering 92 miles worth of city streets. All streets are passable by now, Hargis said on Thursday, “maybe not curb-to-curb but there’s room for two vehicles to pass.” The city is continuing to work on those that aren’t cleaned off, and has 250 tons of salt remaining in supply.
The state highway department is working on about 12,00 miles of roadway in Pulaski County, 5,200 throughout the whole of District 8, and has put about 20 trucks out on the road, plus a grader, with workers pulling 12-hour shifts.
“Normally, we don’t use (the grader) in snow events,” said Hale, “but with this snow so easily plowed, we took the grader out to try to get more accumulation off the roadway. ... In cases like this (storm), we have to bring it out.”
Hale said that her agency has started using calcium chloride, a liquidic chemical alternative to traditional salt that works better in low temperatures.
“It’s kind of like the salt brine we put down before a (winter) event,” she said. “We’ve used that to work on the roadways.”
Dan Price, Deputy Judge-Executive for Pulaski County, said the county government is also doing well on salt with close to 100 tons, and more that arrived mid-week from Louisville — even if the trucks carrying it had to go 25 to 30 miles down the interstate, he said. County workers have pulled 16-hour shifts hitting approximately 2,000 miles of roadway within the expansive and rural Pulaski borders.
“We’re really proud of our people,” said Price. “If there’s an issue, we’re able to get to someone. We’re able to take care of the community’s needs.”
Price noted that some of the more remote areas have been difficult to reach — he named places like Keno, Garland Bend, Mt. Zion and White Lily as examples — but “we’re pushing as hard as we can, as long as we can,” he said.
Each day throughout the week has presented new challenges, starting with Monday’s snow downpour of approximately a foot — more or less in different places — and then the heavy winds mid-week, which caused snow drifts, blowing much of it back into areas that had been cleared.
Higher temperatures this weekend will bring rain, which will create another problem for city street personnel, said Hargis.
“One of the things we’re concerned about is the rain on Saturday,” he said. “Once the snow starts melting, it won’t have any place to go because the drains are covered up, so we’re concerned about (flooding).”
Still, things have gone amazingly well for public safety, given the harsh conditions. Tiger Robinson, Pulaski County Public Safety Director, said that he’s unaware of any significant injury accidents having occurred throughout the week-long snowstorm period.