‘Desert of snow’ keeps city, county crews busy throughout last week

The Huntington County Highway foreman’s truck makes it way down a snow-covered county road after the snowfall had ceased after the winter storm that hit Huntington County on Sunday, Jan. 5. Photo provided.

"It was like a desert of snow," says Troy Hostetler, superintendent of Huntington County Highway, of the winter storm that hit Huntington County on Sunday, Jan. 5.

The effects of the snowstorm were felt throughout the next week, with Huntington County Community Schools closing school through Friday, Jan. 10, and Huntington County issuing travel advisories throughout the week.

As the storm began Sunday, road crews in Huntington County and the city of Huntington were out in full force trying to battle the excessive snowfall and blowing snow, but each crew was forced to retire in the afternoon and wait until the precipitation stopped falling.

Hostetler says he sent trucks to the local fire departments overnight. There, his crew members plowed paths ahead of emergency vehicles that were responding to dispatched calls. While the county trucks took care of emergencies, the city trucks were back out on streets at 10 p.m., says Bob Caley, Streets and Parks Department superintendent.

The next morning, both crews were out in full force. Caley says from Sunday at 10 p.m. until Thursday, Jan. 9, at 3 p.m., his crew worked non-stop.

"We always start with hills, and then the main corridors," explains Caley. "From there, we start in on secondary streets.

"We have been plowing all week."

The city street department is responsible for 180 lane miles - a total that includes mileage from both sides of a street.

The county highway department had a bit more ground to cover, with 1,400 lane miles to clear.

Hostetler says he had 19 crew members out plowing, including himself.

"Many of these guys were away from their families for 48 hours, sleeping on cots, with no home cooked meals," he explains. "The combination of over 13 inches of snow and the negative 40 degree wind chill was really the perfect storm."

Both Hostetler's and Caley's crews were unable to clear roads effectively due to the high winds and frigid temperatures.

After temps dropped below zero, both men say their materials, including salt and calcium chloride, are simply not useful.

"Once it starts warming up, then we can put salt down on the ice," Caley explains. He says the city uses a salt and stone chip mixture to melt ice and create traction. Hostetler says his crew dropped salt on the roads on Thursday, before his drivers went home for the first evening in several days.

On Thursday afternoon, Jan. 9, Caley hoped city streets would be cleared curb to curb in the next day.

He says when plows are out city residents who are able to park off of streets should do so, which not only helps get the roads plowed, but prevents cars from becoming plowed-in.

"Plow-ins happen," he says, "unfortunately."

Hostetler says residents should take note of the travel advisory status.

"The biggest problem we had was people going out during the Level 1 snowemergency," he says, "They shouldn't have been out.

"The Level 1 was issued for a reason."
When a "warning" travel advisory, or Level 1, is issued, the Department of Homeland Security states, "individuals are directed to: refrain from all travel; comply with necessary emergency measures; cooperate with public officials and disaster services forces in executing emergency operations plans; and obey and comply with the lawful directions of properly identified officers."

Hostetler says his crew stopped several times to pull vehicles out of ditches on Monday and Tuesday, when cars should not have been on the roads. He says assisting those drivers slows down the time in which county roads can be cleared.

"It is a rude awakening plowing in those conditions," he notes. "There were six to seven foot drifts - they could've been bigger."

Each crew leader was relieved to have a few hours to rest on Thursday evening, he says, ahead of more precipitation that was expected over the weekend.