MOUNT VERNON – Knox County could potentially receive the ‘storm of the year’ this weekend, with 7-10 inches of snow expected to fall on Saturday, according to an update issued by the National Weather Service early Saturday morning.
The NWS issued a Winter Storm Warning for Holmes, Ashland, Wayne, Stark, Mahoning, Morrow, Knox and Richland counties until 10 a.m. Sunday.
Local weather forecasts predict the snow will begin in the morning and remain steady through the evening, tailing off by Sunday morning. Temperatures will drop throughout the day and into the night on Saturday, beginning around the 30-degree mark at noon and eventually falling into the teens.
The wind will be brutal; forecasts call for gusts of at least 20 miles per hour, driving the ‘feels like’ temperatures down substantially.
The optics of this weekend’s predicted snowstorm are daunting – the heavy snowfall, dropping temperatures and whirling wind – but Mount Vernon Streets Department Superintendent Tom Hinkle predicts this storm will be similar to the rest in one way.
“Everybody’s always calling and complaining, ‘You’re not salting my street. You’re not plowing my street. Why are you doing this guy’s street and not mine?’” Hinkle said in his office Friday afternoon, cracking a smile. He’s been the streets superintendent for three years. He’s used to it.
“We get that,” he said. “It never stops, it never will.”
Hinkle said there is often confusion among city residents as to how the streets are plowed. Which streets take priority? How does the process work in a full-on snowstorm, like the one that’s expected this weekend?
Here’s how the Streets Department gameplans for a weekend like this:
To understand the logistics of what goes into plowing during a snowstorm, it’s important to first understand what resources the city has at its disposal.
Between seven Streets Department employees and three cross-department city volunteers, Hinkle will deploy 10 workers to plow the streets on Saturday. They will be split up into groups of five (the city has five large snow plows, which have 11-foot blades) and will work in 12-hour shifts; one group will come in when Hinkle deems it appropriate (likely when the morning snow begins to fall), and the next will come in after their shift is over.
The five people working each shift will be designated a specific area of Mount Vernon to plow.
Here are descriptions of each section:
South end: Spans from the Kokosing River to southern city limits. Includes Industrial Park, side streets like Martinsburg Road, etc.
East end: Connects to the ‘South end’ border and stretches up to State Route 229. Begins at Gay Street downtown (West border) and goes all the way to eastern city limits. Includes streets such as Yauger Road, Upper Gilchrist Road, etc.
Northeast end: Connects from State Route 229 (which is included in this territory) and goes north to Wooster Road. Stretches all the way to northern city limits. Includes streets such as Burgess Street, Hamtramck Street, Beech Street, etc.
North end: Connects from Wooster Road and spans west to Sandusky Street. Stretches all the way to northern city limits. Includes Shirley Avenue, Mulberry Street, and the area surrounding Dan Emmett Elementary School.
West end: Begins at Sandusky Street and stretches all the way to western city limits. Includes Marion Street, High Street, and all side streets until the viaduct.
Each worker will also be in charge of plowing a section of downtown, based on their location. During less prolonged weather events (when Hinkle doesn't need to use five-man shifts), the department uses its sixth plow – a smaller, more nimble plow – to serve the downtown area.
During the day, Hinkle is in communication with his staff and the regional 911 dispatch to identify hazardous areas. He is also constantly monitoring weather patterns, which will impact the way the department operates throughout the day.
In addition to city roads, the Streets Department also treats all state routes that run through the city. In Knox County, ODOT is charged with plowing sections of state routes that are outside Mount Vernon jurisdiction. This means that the Streets Department handles large portions of state routes 3, 13, 36, 229 and 586.
“We take care of them when they’re in our town,” Hinkle said.
When it comes to which streets get plowed first, the Streets Department has a policy in place.
The main, arterial streets and state routes will always be plowed first. These are roads that connect people to hospitals, grocery stores, doctors and gas stations.
“We have to keep these streets open,” Hinkle said. “We have to keep these streets in drivable condition, passable condition.”
The Streets Department will plow these roads – and only these roads – until the storm is over. Certain side streets may deem early attention, such as roads on hills, which can become a major safety hazard if they are not treated early and often.
Brick streets may also warrant treatment, Hinkle said, because they become slick quicker than asphalt roads do. But aside from those exceptions, the Streets Department will only plow main roads during a storm.
This is a concept many residents do not understand, Hinkle said.
“They’re like, ‘It’s been 12 hours and I’ve not seen a plow on my road!’” he said. “Well, if the storm lasted 12 hours, you’re not going to see a plow on your road. We don’t have enough manpower or trucks to deal with everything at one time. It would be nice to, but the reality is, we don’t have the resources.”
With only five plows and over 99 miles of city roads to cover, Hinkle said the department simply doesn’t have the resources to hit all of the side streets immediately.
Here is the department’s official list of ‘main arterial’ streets:
- Woodlake Trail (by Knox Community Hospital)
- Main Street
- Mulberry Street
- Gay Street
- Sandusky Street
- Coshocton Avenue
- Mansfield Avenue
- Wooster Road
- Newark Road
- Martinsburg Road
- Gambier Street
- Vine Street
- High Street
- Chestnut Street
After the storm stops, the department will then move on to ‘secondary arterials’ and hilly areas.
These include, but are not limited to: the north end hills east of Sandusky Street, Upper Fredericktown Road, Clinton Road, Mount Vernon Avenue, Edgewood Road, Upper Gilchrist Road, Eastern Star Road, New Gambier Road, Yauger Road, and other hilly areas in the northeast and southeast quadrants of the city.
After these roads are treated, workers will turn their attention to ‘side streets and secondary roads.’ The final stop for road treatment in the city is alleys, Hinkle said, which only get plowed if snowfall exceeds 3-5 inches.
Hinkle asked city residents to be patient through the storm, as the blowing wind and dropping temperatures might make this one particularly challenging to treat. He asked them to trust the process.
“That’s the way it is; everybody wants their street done, and they want it done as soon as possible. It’s just hard, we can’t do that,” Hinkle said. “We have to deal with this, and this is the best way to deal with the snow and the ice that comes through.”
Hinkle said there are plenty of ways city residents can help out during a storm, although it’s mostly a matter of staying safe and giving the snow plows space.
He also encouraged residents not to park on marked ‘snow emergency streets’ once snowfall exceeds three inches, as doing so makes it significantly harder for plows to treat some of Mount Vernon’s narrow side streets.
Both Hinkle and Morgan Overbey, ODOT District 5 public information officer, asked that residents stay off the roads this weekend unless driving is absolutely necessary. If residents choose to drive, Overbey recommended they take it slow and make extra time for travel.
ODOT, which serves just over 400 miles of road in Knox County, will be using its full winter fleet this weekend to treat local roads. There will be 12 snow plow crews working on 12-hour shifts throughout the county, Overbey said.
Hinkle said there has been a slight uptick in ‘notable weather events,’ or days when road treatment is required, this winter. Since Jan. 1, the Streets Department has had to plow or salt the streets four times. The department has used approximately 100 hours of overtime employment and 400 tons of salt already this year.
While the department had 19 notable events last year, few storms, if any, were long-term. Most called for 1-3 inches of accumulation and were done within a matter of hours, Hinkle said.
This weekend will be different.
“What worries me about this one is it’s going to get really cold and really windy,” Hinkle said. “So we want to try to get the streets cleaned off as quick as we can before that sets in.”