Tuesday, Feb. 26 2013 9:30AM
Oh, snow ... not again
By Russ Pulley
Lee’s Summit didn’t get an opportunity to lift its snow emergency before the city began preparing for a second wallop.
The National Weather Service predicted snow overnight Feb. 25 with accumulation of 7 to 11 inches possible in Lee’s Summit, with another 1 to 3 inches falling Tuesday and into Wednesday. The city already has mountains of snow piled alongside streets and parking lots remaining from last week.
Mayor Randy Rhoads had declared a snow emergency then as city crews labored to keep streets open.
Al Pietycha, a meteorologist at the Pleasant Hill station of the National Weather Service, said the Lee’s Summit average snow during the Feb. 21 storm was about 10.5 inches.
The weather service expected the same overnight on Feb. 25, he said, with the moist snows being equivalent of one inch of rain. So that is expected to put annual moisture for 2013 at normal or a bit above.
“Right now we’re doing really good,” Pietycha said. “There’s still a big deficit for the last two years because we were so far behind.”
Subsoil moisture, which provides water for trees and irrigation, are still lagging behind, he said, while the recent storms will help replenish pond water and encourage germination of seeds this spring.
The Lee’s Summit Journal had early deadlines because of the predicted storm, so information about Tuesday and Wednesday can be expected in the Friday edition.
The first storm stranded about 116 motorists, there were five crashes, one with injuries, said Sgt Chris Depue, spokesman for the Lee’s Summit Police Department. One vehicle was towed by the department.
In the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District, as of Feb. 25, the district had cancelled three days due to inclement weather – one in December and two last week.
The inclement weather caused the district to change its last day of school from May 16 to May 21, which is an early-release day. School may let out even later if Feb. 25’s predicted winter storm causes more cancellations.
According to Janice Phelan, a district spokeswoman, all nine-month employees of the district do not report to work on snow days and make up the lost work day during the additional days of school.
“So there’s no real staffing cost to add the days,” Phelan said in an email. “Items like fuel costs for school buses would be deferred but would not be an extra expense.”
Phelan added with one storm ending and another beginning, the district does not have the costs associated with snow removal on district grounds compiled as of yet.
City crews had just completed plowing by Sunday. Monday afternoon they were again pretreating streets with salt to start melting of coming ice or snow.
Bob Hartnett, deputy director of the Public Works Department, said he measured about 12 inches near his home during the first storm. Windy conditions shifted snow and caused drifts so depths varied around town, he said.
“There were places you could see the grass, other places were three or four feet deep,” Hartnett said.
After the Feb. 21, storm about 99-percent of streets were cleared by 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Hartnett said that city crews did miss a few streets and returned late Saturday and early Sunday to catch those gaps.
Hartnett said the department had a goal of completing the clean-up within 48 hours and had finished 12 hours early, except for the few missed streets.
This week’s storm, if it develops as predicted, could take longer to clear because totals might be bigger and the snow would be wetter.
“Some of our smaller trucks will struggle and not be as efficient,” Hartnett said.
The city can put about 36 vehicles on the street plowing at one time, by also using trucks that belong to the Water Utility and Parks and Recreation departments. Employees trained in driving plows from those departments take turns working 12 hour shifts, 24 hours a day, Hartnett said.
On Monday morning Public Works employees began by lubricating trucks and inspecting machinery to make sure its working to battle the coming storm. By afternoon they were pre-treating streets again.
With an excess of 1,000 lane miles, it takes about eight hours to put salt on the roads, Hartnett said.
The department got about 20 calls from residents from the previous storm who were upset that they’ve already cleared driveways only to have snow shoved back onto the ends of their driveways.
“We’re sorry about that, but you pretty much got to recognize that’s one of the problems there will be when we’re trying to keep the public streets open,” Hartnett said.
Hartnett said it isn’t practical for drivers to pick up blades or come back and plow snow out of driveways in those instances. If crews stopped for each driveway, streets would be a mess and the response time would take 100 hours, not 48 hours, he said.
Hartnett said the drivers also had noticed snow forts tunneled into piles of snow along streets. Children should not play in those forts, he said. Instead, abandon them and build snow forts in the backyard, not in city right-of-way where a 30,000-pound truck will be working.
“We’re going to hit those snow forts and we’re trying to avoid a tragedy,” Hartnett said.
He said the city would like to ask private contractors and people shoveling snow to push it to an area on their property. Piling it in the street makes it harder for the city to do its job.
It costs the city about $35,000 for each 12-hour shift employees are working on clearing streets, including costs related to vehicles and materials, Hartnett said.
The first event required six shifts so the storm cost the city about $210,000. That doesn’t include extra expenses from the Police Department.
Rhoads said that because Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency for Missouri during the first storm, the city might be able to recover some of the costs.
The fire department did not work any medical calls which would be related specifically to the first storm, said Assistant Fire Chief Jim Eden. But because snow shoveling is strenuous, he urged people with medical conditions or out of shape to get help removing snow or letting it stay.
The city’s Emergency Operations Center is activated in Fire Station No. 1 when the mayor declares an emergency. All city department heads are assembled to coordinate work to solve problems during the incident, pooling vehicles and personnel to accomplish the job.
Fire Chief Keith Martin said that with the city and state declaring an emergency, the governor can petition the federal government for relief through the Stafford Act, if a federal emergency is also invoked. The city is tracking its expenses to submit them for possible reimbursement.
Rhoads said he saw residents helping each other dig out after the first storm.
“You’d see clusters of people going from one driveway to another,” Rhoads said. “It was kind of cool to see people helping each other so no one was over-taxed.”
Toriano Porter contributed to this report.