Let it snow, let it snow
Weekend snow puts a strain on municipal budgets, but town officials say snow removal from Saturday’s storm went smoothly as Johnston had its first real dose of winter weather.
“It went pretty well. Our guys did a tremendous job,” said Director of Public Works Arnie Vecchione. “They worked around the clock, 15 straight hours.”
According to the National Weather Service, 7.6 inches of snow fell in Johnston starting late Saturday afternoon, tapering off as the evening progressed, with only trace amounts of precipitation continuing into Sunday.
It’s a forecast that Mayor Joseph Polisena has come to dread.
“I’m not happy seeing it. I’m a snow hater, because every time I see it, it costs money,” he said.
Public works crews were called in on Saturday at 5 p.m., a notice that came as no surprise. Trucks had been out on Friday with the salt brine machine, preparing the roads for the weekend forecast. Johnston became the second municipality in the state to own its own salt brine machine in March of 2011. The brine, which is a mixture of salt and water, adheres to the road better than regular salt or sand, with the hope of keeping snow from sticking to the road. Crews can put brine down as much as 48 hours in advance of a snowstorm, as long as it doesn’t rain, and it saves the town from using sand.
“The brine machine works very well for us. It’s one of the better investments we’ve made,” Polisena said.
The initial cost of the salt brine machine and equipment to retrofit DPW trucks was roughly $36,000. Vecchione agrees that the technology was worth it, and said feedback after the storm has been positive. One challenge came with wind gusts that created snowdrifts, requiring a second pass on some areas.
“When everyone got home, I got maybe three calls on problem areas. We’ve been getting some calls from residents about how the brine is working out well, especially on some of the hills,” he said.
On Saturday evening, the town had five large plows out and another seven smaller trucks, as well as foremen trucks checking on problem areas. Workers were on the road through 7 a.m. Sunday.
“It’s a long day and a long evening because it’s difficult out there. When you’re in the truck and that snow is coming down in front of you, it almost puts you in a trance,” Vecchione said.
The town also had two Hummers ready for the Johnston Police Department, as an alternative for the typical cruiser that does not perform as well in the snow. Travel conditions Saturday afternoon into evening were dangerous, but Chief of Police Richard Tamburini said yesterday that there was nothing out of the ordinary in terms of traffic accidents.
The Johnston School Department fortunately did not have to consider closures or delays, as the snow hit on Saturday and students were still on winter break until Wednesday of this week.
The town brought in 15 independent plowing vendors for the storm, the cost of which is not yet clear. Overtime pay for DPW workers coming in on Saturday and fees from contractors inflate storm costs. Vecchione estimated he would have a cost for the storm sometime next week.
“It certainly puts a dent in our budget but nothing overwhelming,” he said.
In total, the town budgeted roughly $80,000 for snow removal for this winter.
Just days before New Year’s, Saturday’s snow was the first round of severe winter weather. Prior to this weekend, Johnston had seen just 1.7 inches of snow – a season total of 9.3 inches to date. Nationwide, the National Weather Service has named and classified six storms in the winter of 2012 and 2013, starting with Athena in early November and including this weekend’s “Freyr,” which was heaviest in the Ohio Valley.
With the first day of spring nearly three months away, Vecchione and Polisena are hopeful that the rest of the winter will be as mild as last year.
“I’m going to say a lot of Hail Marys,” the mayor said. “If we can go another month like this, one storm will be enough for me.”