Advance notice, hard work lead to clear city streets after snowfall

Posted: March 7, 2013

The Winchester Star

Winchester Department of Public Works division manager Tom Denney sits in a plow-equipped truck in front of Rouss City Hall Wednesday. By midday, most of the city’s streets were passable. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — By midday Wednesday, Tom Denney was feeling relieved.

Winchester’s Public Works Division manager had just gotten word that weather officials thought that the worst part of Winter Storm Saturn was over locally, and all the city’s streets were passable and some downright clean.

The storm, it appeared, had been weathered.

“We’ll probably bring the night shift back in for cleanup,” he said, though given the condition of the streets at that time even that wasn’t certain.

It could have been much, much worse. It took days for the streets to be cleared in February 2010, when back-to-back storms blanketed the city under 31 inches of snow.

Denney, who’d been on the job since 3 a.m. Wednesday, said the night shift went on duty at 8 p.m. Tuesday, began plowing at about 11 p.m., and didn’t stop until 8 a.m. Wednesday morning. That’s when the day crew started its 12-hour shift.

“They’ve done a great job,” City Manager Dale Iman said of the Public Works employees who worked street-cleaning duty.

The primary streets were kept pretty clean throughout most of the storm, Denney said, while smaller streets were left unplowed until the main arteries were clear. The only time the snow came close to overwhelming the plows was Wednesday morning.

“There was a time between 5 and 8 a.m. when we’d go down a street, get to the asphalt, but when we came back it was covered again,” he said. “I thought it was pretty slick at 5 o’clock, when I was driving the streets.”

To handle the precipitation, 16 trucks worked each shift to keep the city’s 101 lane miles passable. The Public Works crews were supplemented by four plows and drivers provided by a company the city has a contract with.

They mostly worked in tandem, with a big truck doing the heavy pushing and a pickup following to plow away remnants. On four-lane streets like Pleasant Valley Road, four trucks were used to clean two lanes at once.

A supervisor patrolled the streets checking on the work and cleaning up in some sections.

Denney shuffled between handling logistics in the office and checking conditions on the streets. Occasionally, he lowered the plow to remove snow, including putting the blade into a “V” shape and shoving away large chunks that were strewn across Loudoun Street at its intersection with Hart Street.

Arborist Jennifer Jenkins also came in Wednesday to deal with some fallen branches, but Denney said there was no major damage.

The warning that a major storm was coming helped with the response.

Denney said he was able to order extra salt on Friday, and Monday and Tuesday were spent planning for the weather.

The city activated its Snow Plan B at 8 p.m. Tuesday, which meant vehicles weren’t to be parked along emergency snow routes or primary streets. Police officers spent much of Tuesday night getting residents to move their vehicles so crews could have free rein over the key arteries.

Salt was applied only at the beginning of the storm.

“Since then,” Denney said, “we’ve done nothing but push.”

People also seemed to heed warnings about the hazardous road conditions the storm could produce and didn’t drive.

“It’s pretty empty out here,” Denney said as he turned onto Boscawen Street from Amherst Street at about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Finally, Iman noted, Mother Nature wasn’t as cruel as forecasters had predicted. High temperatures on Tuesday helped, winds weren’t as high as expected, and the snow didn’t reach anticipated depths.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw