01/09/11 — County prepares for snow ... just in case

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County prepares for snow ... just in case

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 9, 2011 1:50 AM

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James Deans of the state Department of Transportation mixes a brine solution Saturday morning to spray on highways in Wayne County in advance of what weather forecaster say could be a messy Monday.

Wayne County dodged the snowstorm that had been predicted Friday night, sending many residents into grocery stores to stock up on staples, but now must brace for the possibility of one that will materialize Monday into Tuesday.

Several grocery stores reported running low on the typical items like bread and milk Friday evening and for the most part, were able to restock shelves by Saturday.

But by then, the weather threat had dissipated and customers did not appear to have the same sense of urgency.

That could very well change as forecasts continue to indicate the high probability of snow accumulations for the region.

According to the National Weather Service, a wintry mix of precipitation is expected across central North Carolina, most likely beginning Monday morning and continuing that night into Tuesday.

The Triad especially is expected to see "measurable snow" by Monday morning, with additional accumulations possible over the central region, turning into freezing rain that evening in the south and eastern directions.

Officials have not speculated on precipitation types and amounts, but are tracking the low pressure system.

Also paying close attention to the projections are local emergency management personnel, Department of Transportation and school officials.

Trucks were already out Saturday doing pre-treatment of roads with the salt brine solution, said Luther Thompson, DOT county maintenance supervisor.

"We're covering all the primary roads -- (Highway) 70, 117, 795 -- and all the other two-lane primary roads in the county and some secondary roads," he said. "Monday we'll come back if there's some we don't finish. Hopefully if the stuff comes in late Monday, I think that's what they're calling for, we'll do a pre-treatment Monday morning."

A nighttime crew will also be ready if necessary, Thompson said. With 27 trucks on hand, he said there are also contractors on standby should the need arise.

Typically, the department deploys workers 48 hours in advance of a predicted storm, Thompson said. He estimated that the trucks working the roads this weekend probably put down about 25,000 gallons of salt brine during the pre-treatment effort.

"It takes about 40 gallons to do a mile," he said. "After the storm, it could be over 100,000 gallons we put down. That's about what was used in the Christmas storm."

It's worth it, though, he noted, as the preventive solution helps break up the snow and ice.

"It creates a barrier between the pavement and that first layer of snow," he explained. "We started using it in the past four or five years, I guess, but they have been using it for awhile in the western part of the state.

"It works quicker on the snow because it's a liquid form and starts penetrating and breaking it down quicker."

While every effort is made to keep roads safe and passable, there is still the possibility of black ice and slippery conditions, prompting Thompson to issue a word of caution to motorists.

It is not necessarily driving on snowy roads that is a problem, he said, but rather when drivers exceed a safe speed and then experience difficulty when the need arises to slow down quickly.

"If you drive a pretty decent speed, 30 to 35 miles per hour, and don't apply brakes, you can get where you're going to go," Thompson said.

Wayne County Public Schools is also monitoring the weather forecasts. In anticipation of the Friday storm, officials canceled several after school events that evening.

Depending on the next snow projection, they will coordinate efforts with local emergency management personnel.

"Our safety team will make that decision as far as early release or two-hour delays or closures or cancellations of after school events," said Ken Derksen, public information officer. "We will just seek to make good decisions for the safety of students of Wayne County Public Schools."