Winter weather continued to bury New Paltz and its neighboring communities last week when a record snowfall pummeled the Northeast on Feb. 13-14. As of Sunday, the National Weather Service reported a 21-inch snow depth at weather stations in Rosendale, Poughkeepsie and Kingston.
Throughout it all, crews of our local highway departments have braved the snow to make the roads passable for everyday people. But they’ve been working overtime — literally and figuratively.
According to Town of Lloyd Highway Superintendent Richard Klotz, cold more than the snow has been a problem on local roads this winter.
Untreated road salt becomes ineffective below 15 degrees, and it won’t melt the ice. Salt treated with chemicals like calcium chloride can melt ice at lower temperatures, however. Salt effectiveness has been an issue during the colder days this winter.
Also with temperatures staying below or very near freezing, snow just lingers. “It’s been so cold. Nothing seems to want to melt,” Klotz said.
Rosendale Highway Superintendent Bob Gallagher noted that during the previous winter of 2012/13, highway department personnel worked a total of 822 hours of overtime. But as of the end of January 2014, road crews have “put in 970 man-hours of overtime already, with February and March left to go.” Consumption of diesel fuel and road salt was up by comparable margins, and Gallagher expressed worry that his department’s expenditures might ultimately exceed the allocated budget due to adverse weather conditions.
Ice and snow will also cause problems with the roads when they melt, according to local highway officials. Potholes should be expected when spring comes.
“We’ll know the impact of it when the thaw comes,” said Chris Marx, the highway super in the Town of New Paltz.
Marx noted that smaller storms posed a bigger problem for clearing the roads compared to massive snowfall events. During last week’s big storm, nicknamed Winter Storm Pax by The Weather Channel, local roads were surprisingly clear after the first day.
That’s because snowplowing crews get the roads to themselves on days where the rest of us stay home.
Smaller storms — especially on days where school is in session — create a problem because plows have to contend with buses and commuters getting to and from work.
Small storms also require more road salt to be used. During a big storm, a highway department or department of public works might only throw salt in the morning and evening. During a small storm, salt goes down more often to keep the roads traversable.
“You’re trying to keep the roads as open as we can to get the buses back,” Marx said. “And you’re driving a truck with 14 yards of material — which is around 16,000 pounds — an 11-foot blade on the front — that’s 2,000 pounds — on a truck in slippery weather, trying to dodge traffic. So it can be a lot of stress. As the day goes on, you get tired.”