Small snowfalls are giant headaches
Small snowfalls are giant headaches BY DAN NEPHIN, Staff Writer
This winter has yet to deliver a single significant snowfall, but the quick-hitting Alberta Clipper systems have taken a toll.
Though the snowfalls have ranged from dustings to a few inches of the white stuff, it's been enough to cause problems for drivers.
Road crews still have to treat roads to make them drivable, and the systems are a challenge for forecasters.
"From a meteorological perspective, to say flurries versus half an inch, that's the toughest forecast in the books," Millersville University meteorologist Eric Horst said Tuesday -- not too long before flurries began falling.
How much was expected? Flurries to a few showers was Horst's forecast.
A slight change in how much moisture clouds might be carrying or a degree or so change in temperature "will make the difference between getting an coating and getting an inch," Horst said.
"But sometimes on the roads, half an inch is worse than 5 inches," he said. Five inches means drivers might stay off the roads, but they may not adjust their driving if a half-inch falls, he said.
Take Saturday afternoon and evening. Not much snow fell but because the roads were so cold, what did fall essentially turned to ice, Horst said.
Dozens of crashes happened throughout the county. Numerous crashes also happened on Jan. 25, when 1 to 3 inches of snow fell.
Scott Tanguy, maintenance manager of PennDOT's Lancaster office, said the systems are difficult to plan for.
"They're hit or miss. We've had situation where roads in one part of the county are snow-covered and in other parts of the county, it's nothing," he said.
That can make it difficult to allocate resources.
"We're trying to be good stewards of what we get," he said, adding that the office hasn't had difficulty getting salt and anti-skid material.
PennDOT's responsible for about 11,000 "lane miles," or linear miles, of county roadway, which is about 21,000 "snow lane miles," which accounts for each travel lane.
PennDOT has used about 3,500 tons of rock salt this winter, compared with a five-year average of 13,000 tons of salt per season, Tanguy said.
When clippers bring light snow, crews add more anti-skid to rock salt, he said. That provides traction and saves salt, but it can take longer for the salt to work in colder temperatures, he said.
But calcium chloride, which is a more effective melter, is also more costly and more corrosive, he said.
"Most of our people, and me included, we'd rather just have a good 6 or 8 or 10 inches of snow," he said.
City public works director Charlotte Katzenmoyer agreed.
"I'd rather it be one 8-inch storm and get it over with rather than it be four different storms of 1 or 2 inches," she said.
Staffing is still the same no matter the snowfall, she said, though this winter's overtime costs have been typical.
The city did have difficulty in the last week or so ordering salt, so it borrowed some from PennDOT, she said. She wasn't sure if that was caused by other municipalities ordering salt or the results of a shipping problem.
The city is responsible for 110 miles of streets and 20 miles of state highway, she said.
Other municipalities also had a grin-and-bear-it attitude toward the clippers.
"We have to respond to conditions, but it hasn't been particularly burdensome," said Robert Krimmel, East Hempfield Township's manager. The township has plenty of salt and clearing the roads hasn't affected the budget, he said.
In New Holland, borough manager Dick Fulcher was concerned that even talking about snow might jinx things.
"We're in about what we call the middle," he said, pointing out that big snowfalls have happened in March.
The borough also has salt and overtime costs haven't been a problem, he said.
"Other than ski resorts, I don't think anybody missed the big storms," he said.
nDrivers are slow to adjust when clippers dump 1-inch snows. Those responsible for roads would just as soon handle one big snow, instead of all the little ones we've seen this season.