Snow removal crews up to the challenge

Thursday, December 1, 2005

With 1,000 miles of highways to clear in 13 Southwest Nebraska counties, Department of Roads' crews knew they were in for a long, trying ordeal Sunday when blizzard conditions struck the Great Plains.

Thanks to an exact forecast, the highway maintenance workers were on alert before the winds started howling and the first drops of rain turned to snow.

And so it was -- early Sunday morning -- that the highway maintenance crews went into action, pre-treating bridges and other ice-sensitive road segments with a liquid salt brine and chemicals such as Caliber 2000.

Quickly, though, the treacherous combination of snow and wind took command, covering highways with wind-whipped drifts and bringing traffic to a standstill due to whiteout conditions.

Even though the blizzard didn't let up -- with the howling gusts continuing through the night Sunday and all-day Monday -- the highway maintenance team surged into action, with 75 workers operating trucks with one-way and wing plows.

There were times they had to stop. "The blowing snow became so bad the truck operators couldn't tell if they were on the road or on the shoulder. We called them in, because conditions weren't safe for the public or the road staff," said Kurt Vosburg, the district engineer.

But, as soon as the winds lessened, the crews were back out, working 15-hour days and arising at 3:30 the next morning to start again.

The same kind of commitment took place in McCook, where a crew of 15 worked long hours to plow the highway through town, the airport runways and snow routes throughout the city.

"I'm very proud of my crew," said Kyle Potthoff, McCook's director of public works. "This was the first storm for five members of the snow-clearing team, but they did an outstanding job." The long hours continued through Tuesday and Wednesday, with city workers coming back at night to clear the piles of snow in the middle of Norris Avenue and B Street.

Of all the challenges faced by state and city crews, the most daunting was on Highway 18 between the Orafino corner and the Nebraska 18-U.S. 283 intersection. Drifts were so deep that the road was not open for one-way traffic until Tuesday afternoon, more than 48 hours after the storm started to move in.

Blizzards of this dimension don't happen often. But, when they do, it's reassuring to know that this district highway workers and local crews are up to the challenge. Because of their devotion to duty and diligent effort, traffic is quickly returning to normal in Southwest Nebraska.

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