Biting cold, not snow, major hazard of New Year’s blizzard in Whitehall


B y Lee Tugas

Last week’s blizzard, which dumped nearly a foot of snow on the Whitehall region, kept local highway workers busy

Town and village highway crews took the last major foot-fall of snow on Dec. 14 and 15 in stride.

“It was a good practice run,” village crewman Jason Martel said then.

No one on the town or village crews were calling last week’s steady snowstorm, whipped by frigid high winds, a practice run.

“We got our money’s worth this time,” Don Williams, village highway superintendent said Monday from his office in the village highway garage.

“It was tough going,” confirmed Town Highway Superintendent Louis Pratt, when he was called by phone on Tuesday.

Pratt said high winds made it difficult for town crews to plow the 36-miles of town roads, since the snow constantly blew into the windshields of the plow trucks.

“The wind blew so, that you often couldn’t see in front of the window of your truck,” Pratt said.

Pratt said all his crews worked from 6 a.m. Thursday until 9 p.m. that night and then resumed plowing at 3 a.m. on Friday, wrapping up for good at 5 p.m. early Friday night.

Williams said his crew worked similar tough shifts.

“We worked 13 hours both on Thursday and Friday,” he said, adding that his department suffered from equipment problems, with a “skid-steer” overheating and a back-hoe blowing a tire. Williams said his department handles about 32-miles of village roads, both big and small.

Village Police Chief Matt Dickinson complemented both town and village crews for keeping the roads cleared during the 24-hour snowfall. As a result of their diligence, he said, only two minor accidents were handled by village police.

The most serious accident took place on Route 22 near the area popularly known as “Rock Cut,” Dickinson said. A motorist hit a patch of black ice on Thursday at 7:05 a.m. Spinning out of control, her car’s back bumper hit the guard rail, spun around a second time, and hit the guard rail with its front bumper. Damage was minor and the woman drove away in her car, Dickinson said.

At 4:12 p.m. on Thursday, village police helped state police locate a man who had left the scene of a single-car property damage accident on Route 12. Again, damage was minor and the man was remanded to the custody of state police, Dickinson said.

After cold and snow, the melt-down

The blizzard, during which temperatures reached 15-below, was almost immediately followed on Sunday with a warm-up that continued through Monday, with temperatures reaching into the 40s.

Such warm-ups are actually a break for town and village highway crews, Pratt explained.

Below 15 degrees above zero, salt does not melt snow, Pratt said. An extra chemical, quite expensive, has to be added. Neither town nor village highway departments can afford that chemical. They rely, instead, on lots of sand, heavy traffic and the power of the sun.

“When it melts, you have to make sure you’ve plowed back the snow-banks,” Pratt said.

Otherwise, the snow from the banks runs back into the road and freezes, he added.

Thanks to the freak warm-up, however, Pratt reported all major roads in the Whitehall area had “bared up in good shape.”

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