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File | The Journal Gazette

Snow removal not as simple as it seems

Duration, time, temperature most important factors

– When it comes to clearing streets, it’s not the amount of snow that falls so much as how and when it falls, city officials say.

Only 1.5 inches of snowfall was officially recorded at Fort Wayne International Airport overnight Monday into Tuesday morning, according to the National Weather Service, but Fort Wayne city crews had so much trouble keeping streets clear that all four public school districts had to cancel school Tuesday, and numerous Tuesday activities across town were canceled or postponed.

How did less than 2 inches of snow stymie 17 trucks armed with plows, salt and liquid calcium chloride?

“There were a lot of contributing factors the trucks had to deal with,” Director of Public Works Bob Kennedy said. “We take it very seriously, the snow removal process.”

Kennedy said the city runs a third shift all winter, so fresh crews hit the streets at 10:30 p.m. Monday. It began snowing about 15 minutes later, a National Weather Service report said. That snow continued to fall – and was whipped by winds up to 24 mph – until after 7 a.m. Tuesday.

“The length of the snow(fall) matters a lot,” Kennedy said. “A little amount over eight or 10 hours is harder to treat.”

Compounding the problem, he said, was a drastic drop in temperature. At 9 p.m., according to the weather service, it was 32 degrees. By 1 a.m., it was in the teens, and by 5:30 a.m. the temperature had fallen into single digits.

“That’s a fast, really hard freeze-up,” Kennedy said.

The calcium chloride trucks spray with the salt helps it perform at lower temperatures, but when temps hit single digits it does little or nothing to melt snow and ice.

“If it had snowed an inch and it was 20 degrees and the snow was in and then out, the roads would have been running water,” Kennedy said. “At 4 degrees, it’s hard to get the streets to run water.”

Combined with continued snowfall and drifting, that left streets a mess.

Fort Wayne Community Schools transportation employees began driving city streets about 4 a.m. Tuesday and found the roads to be slippery, district spokeswoman Krista Stockman said.

The district began the day with a two-hour delay, hoping that streets might be clearer after a few hours, she said.

“They went back out between 6 and 7 a.m. and found that the condition of the streets really hadn’t changed,” she said. “These were the main streets in the city, not just side streets, but the main arteries.”

FWCS students will now attend classes June 4 to make up for the missed day Tuesday.

Kennedy said the city has already used 12,000 tons of salt so far – more than was used all winter for the past several years.

“We haven’t seen these types of temperatures in years – it takes more material to be effective,” Kennedy said. “We haven’t seen a winter like this in a while.”