February 10, 2011

Going Snowhere

Record Snowfall Brings Scotland County to Standstill

It was tough to get a true measure of exactly how much snow fell in Scotland County February 1st and 2nd amidst the peaks and valleys of some of the worst drifting the region had seen in more than a quarter century. The National Weather Service reported a total of 17 inches of snow over the 24-hour period.

The record precipitation combined with high winds generated impassable snow drifts throughout the region, bringing Scotland County to a standstill Tuesday night. By 10 p.m. the state had called off its road crews as well as the Highway Patrol as conditions made it impossible to continue work.

"By that time visibility was down to nearly nothing," said Scotland County Emergency Management Director Bryan Whitney. "It was taking us 10 to 15 minutes to travel one mile."

Road crews were unable to make a dent in the rapidly falling snow and road conditions were becoming unsafe for the work crews as at least two state trucks were stranded.

"We had two guys on the city square working on keeping it open, and they just could not gain any ground," said Memphis Street Superintendent Roy Monroe.

Ultimately the decision was made to call in all the work crews and to wait until the storm cleared to reinstate cleanup efforts.

That occurred Wednesday morning at dawn when city, county and state crews began the massive task of digging out Scotland County.

MoDOT's initial efforts targeted Highways 136 and 15, reopening them to one-lane traffic and ultimately to full traffic before turning attention to the lettered state routes in the county.

"Last week, northeast Missourians experienced an epic event," said MoDOT Northeast District Engineer Paula Gough, P.E. "The blizzard of 2011 dumped between 12" and 20" of snow on us, and it appears the effects of this storm will remain with us through this week. On behalf of the management team of MoDOT's Northeast District, I want to publicly thank our employees, law enforcement, contractors, first responders, other MoDOT districts, the television and radio stations, the newspapers, and the citizens of Missouri for their help in clearing our roads."

Monroe stated his crew began hitting the city streets at 4:00 a.m., a trend that continued the rest of the week.

"We got an early start the rest of the week," Monroe said. "That is a good time because there aren't many people out yet so we have the streets to ourselves."

Even without having to deal with traffic, cleanup crews still had to battle the towering drifts as well as the dwindling amount of room for the displaced snow to go.

"A lot of places we have snow taller than the snow plow blades, so we are forced to use a back hoe or other equipment to clear it," Monroe said. "Then we run into the problem of where to put all the snow once we dig it out. There really isn't anywhere that will hold this much snow."

Many Scotland County businesses were closed Wednesday as efforts were made to begin digging out from the storm. Scotland County R-I School District let out early Monday afternoon and remained closed the remainder of the week, before returning to session on Monday, with buses traveling on hard surface roads only.

The United States Post Office in Memphis was open on Wednesday, but did not make deliveries as no mail trucks were able to make it to Memphis that morning.

The Memphis Democrat, which prints in Ottumwa, IA, was distributed a day late due to the storm.

By Wednesday afternoon, most of the main routes were reopened for traffic in the county.

The most difficult job fell to the Scotland County Road and Bridge Department, which is tasked with maintaining more than 500 miles of county roads.

Whitney reported that approximately 70% of the counties roads had been opened when crews finished work on the second day of cleanup at 1:00 a.m. Friday morning.

Road boss Mark Drummond indicated the eight-man county crew burned the candle at both ends for a four day period, with the county's five road graders running well past midnight on Wednesday through Saturday.

"We started out simply trying to open up a one-lane path to every citizen to allow them to get out or emergency services to have access to get to them if needed," Drummond said.

The county's newest road grader chalked up 340 miles forward, and 17 miles backwards, over the four day stretch, with its operator logging 77 hours.

Drummond said in the four-day span his crews burned through just shy of 2,000 gallons of fuel while operators performed 135 hours of overtime.

"By Saturday we were just 20 to 25 miles shy of having the county completely opened up," Drummond said. "Now we'll turn our attention to trying top widen out the bus routes and other areas, but there are going to be some spots that will remain one lane because there is just too much snow there to move."

The road boss reported areas where the snow banks are taller than the cabs of the tractors. He highlighted one stretch of road that took 2 1/2 hours to clear 1/4 of a mile because of the height and density of the snow.

Drummond participated in a conference call with State Emergency Management Agency officials this week. The SEMA agents indicated that federal aid likely will be available to help offset some of the added expense incurred in the initial 48 hours of response to the blizzard emergency. That likely would mean approximately $15,000 of reimbursement for the county road department.

"I cannot sing the praises of my guys enough," Drummond said. "They put in a lot of work. Just as impressive was the cooperation between city, state and county crews as well as all of the help local residents provided with private equipment. It was a group effort."

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