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Last updated: Wed. Feb. 05, 2014 - 01:58 pm EDT

FAMILIAR TALE: WINTER STORM STRIKES AGAIN

Classes cancel; snowplows hit roads

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In Fort Wayne

18,000 tons of salt used so far this winter costing $1.1 million.

742 plow-truck under-blades replaced so far this winter costing $44,390.

$300,000 spent on overtime to plow and salt streets this winter.

$115,000 spent to hire contractors to assist with plowing this winter.

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Photo gallery | Snowstorm

Fort Wayne Community Schools dismissed early Tuesday and Mayor Tom Henry postponed his annual State of the City address as northeast Indiana area braced for another major winter storm.

The Fort Wayne area was expected to get 6 to 10 inches of snow, along with winds of 20 to 25 mph, said Courtney Obergfell, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Syracuse.

As of Tuesday, the area had received 42.6 inches of snow this winter – the fifth-snowiest winter on record, Obergfell said.

An additional 10 inches of snow would send the area to the No. 2 spot, she said. The snowiest winter on record was in 1981-82 with 61.1 inches, Obergfell said.

Fort Wayne crews have been working around the clock to keep streets plowed, salted, and safe, said Henry, who postponed today's state of the city address.

Fort Wayne Community Schools dismissed students early Tuesday and canceled all evening activities.

City plow trucks will remain on the main arterial streets needed for emergency vehicles until it stops snowing and then move to secondary streets. Plow truck drivers plan to move to residential streets 24 hours after it stops snowing, city officials said.

The county has plenty of supplies, including sand, salt and calcium chloride, which are mixed and spread on snowy and icy roads, but was short on manpower, said Randy Knach, Allen County Highway Department north barn supervisor.

"They are tired, very tired," Knach said of the snowplow operators.

There are not enough drivers to operate the county's 32 plows for two shifts, so each driver will work a longer shift than normal, he said.

Drivers typically plow from 4 a.m. until 4 or 6 p.m., each one averaging 120 miles, Knach said.

"We try to get them back home so they can get back to work at 4 the next morning," he said.

The department downsized a few years ago, Knach said, and the driving and mechanic staff has been stretched thin.

"The drivers and mechanics do a great job, but they work their butts off," he said.

Farther north, in Steuben County, highway crews are running out of places to put the plowed snow, county highway Superintendent Ken Penick said.

Some rural roads were still only one lane, a result of the last storm, Penick said.

During the last storm, two county plow trucks ended up getting stuck after they tried to help a motorist who had slid off the road, Penick said.

"We spent three hours getting those trucks out," he said.

A lot of people will try to go to work, even after a warning is issued that allows only emergency personnel to be on the roads, Penick said.

"I understand why they try to make it to work, but sometimes they would be better off staying home," Penick said. "I've seen people spend a lot more on a wrecker than they would have earned had they made it to their workplace."

All of the extra materials, vehicle maintenance and man-hours needed to battle the storms are wreaking havoc with municipal budgets.

The Kosciusko County Highway Department has already spent roughly $200,000 more on winter storm expenses that it did last year, but it can't be helped, highway Superintendent Scott Tilden said.

Twenty-six plow drivers are responsible for clearing 1,180 miles of road and were prepared for the storm, Tilden said.

"We are geared up and ready to hit the roads," he said.

Small towns with limited staff and budgets can only dream of a fleet of vehicles and employees.

In Churubusco, there is one snowplow and one driver who doubles as the town manager.

Jeremy Hart took off early Tuesday to try and catch a nap, anticipating he would be busy throughout the night, plowing about 13 miles of roads in the small town in northeastern Whitley County.

"I divide the town into four sections and prioritize them, plowing out the fire and police departments first," Hart said.

While two of the main roads in Churubusco – U.S. 33 and Indiana 205 – are plowed by state crews, Hart is responsible for the rest.

During a storm, he usually works by himself, plowing from midnight until about 6 a.m. when two employees from other departments help him by driving a backhoe and truck to move snow, he said.

"We usually quit at 3 p.m. when traffic is heaviest, and give residents a chance to dig themselves out," Hart said.

But if the snow continues, Hart will find himself back in the truck that evening, he said.

Sometimes, residents are angry that the snow plowed along the edge of the road has blocked their driveways, but other times, people have said thanks or even offered him a cup of coffee, Hart said.

vsade@jg.net


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