Friday, Mar. 01, 2013
Snow batters county again
By Bethany Bashioum
After being hit with as many as 9-12 inches of snow late last week, Cass County residents endured a second round of “Snowmageddon 2013” not less than five days after the first.
The first storm, which began in the early morning hours Feb. 21, created whiteout conditions and blanketed the ground with knee-deep snow, paralyzing much of the region for about 24 hours.
Harrisonville Street Superintendent Manager Rodney Jacobs said the conditions were the worst he had seen in several years.
“In the preparation for the snow, we make sure we have our stockpile of salt and sand supplies, and that our trucks are ready to operate,” Jacobs said. “We had some issues because of the timing of the storm as it was when people were trying to get home. There was a lot snowpack that our plows would trip over and because of the heavy snow and ice, would cause a lot of problems.”
Harrisonville utilized the work of eight street department workers and also received assistance from the city’s water department.
“The biggest challenge was people trying to get home at the same time. We had people stuck in the middle of the road and we tried to get them out of the way. That’s very time consuming,” said Jacobs, of the first storm. “It was 10 inches of snow. Trying to push that amount of snow in short amount of time, for us, is impossible.”
In a more moderate snowfall, Jacobs said it takes about five hours to get two passes through town.
“On a bigger snow like this, when you have a snow storm that continues on for a period of time, we try to focus on the emergency snow plow routes and the hills,” he said. “We don’t normally concentrate on all of the side roads until it stops snowing.”
Presiding Commissioner Jeff Cox declared a county “State of Emergency” shortly after 10:30 a.m. Feb. 21 which is a necessary order communities must make if the state or federal government makes disaster funding available, as well as closing multiple county offices.
Schools and many area businesses were also closed due to the quick, incoming snow falling at a rate of about three inches per hour during its peak, and again on Friday as snow crews made their way from emergency snow routes to residential areas.
On Feb. 22, residents began to dig their vehicles out of their driveways in preparation for the weekend.
But just when residents thought they had seen the brunt of the extremes, by last weekend regional meteorologists sounded the alarm that many area residents likely didn’t want to hear again so soon.
In Cass County, the National Weather Service Central Regional Office in Pleasant Hill forecasted another looming system would have the potential to dump just as much snow as the first storm.
As with the first storm, the NWS issued another Winter Storm Warning in Cass County through 3 p.m. Feb. 26 to warn residents.
The system, which began to move in through the late afternoon hours on Monday with a wintery mix of light snow and sleet, caused a slight sense of panic among shoppers as they rushed to local grocery stores to stock up on essential food item such as eggs, bread and milk.
Ironically, Jim Keeney, weather program manager for the NWS, said the second storm had several commonalities of the first system.
“It is a very similar track,” Keeney said. “During this time of the year when we have cold air place, this is just a prime setup for heavy snow in this general area.”
By around 9 p.m. Monday, all Cass County schools reported closings for Tuesday. Cox again declared a “State of Emergency” throughout the county at 11:57 p.m. Monday.
By early morning Tuesday, heavier snowfall began accumulating, dropping another 8-12 inches by midday.
Some KCP&L and Osage Valley Electric Cooperative customers in Cass County also lost power for a number of hours on Tuesday due to snow-laden branches falling on power lines.
In both weather events, road crews from around the county worked around the clock, to push the snow off streets.
Major snowfalls can also do damage on city budgets due to an increased demand of sand, salt, truck repairs and overtime expenses, but Harrisonville Public Works Director Terry Gibbs said that was something his city was prepared for.
In a snowstorm reaching the magnitude of the two this week, the Harrisonville’s crews go through about 500 gallons of diesel fuel, as much as 200 tons of salt and sand, and as much as $3,500 in overtime costs.
“We budget snow storms every year based on previous history,” Gibbs said. “We don’t have a lot of money for snow storms, but its one of those that we anticipate.”
Emergency services throughout Cass County also stayed busy as the storm weathered.
Fire departments urged residents to keep nearby water hydrants cleared from snow so it could be seen, and accessed, in the event that it will be needed for a fire, while also doing their best to respond to emergencies as they occurred.
During the first snowfall, the Cass County Sheriff’s Office responded to 62 weather-related calls, which included 40 stranded motorists and seven accidents in a 24-hour time frame.
In the second storm, deputies responded to 49 weather-related calls, including 23 stranded motorists and nine accidents.
In both situations, Cass County Sheriff Dwight Diehl activated the county’s newly-formed Disaster Emergency Response Team of 14 deputies, who have received training in the areas of search and rescue, advanced first aid, chainsaw operation, heavy machinery operation, disaster scene security and disaster planning.
Diehl said the conception for the team began in after the EF5 tornado devastated many areas of Joplin in 2011.
As part of its response team, the Sheriff’s Office also contacted the U.S. Military for extra equipment, and were provided with search and rescue gear, first aid supplies, survival gear and two M998 HMMWVs.
The equipment is issued to the county at no cost to the Sheriff’s Office or area residents.
“Our main goal is to have our team equipped and depart our office within an hour, respond to the scene, provide a multitude of different types of assistance, and remain self-sufficient for extended periods of time without outside contact,” Diehl said.
While both storms produced heavy amounts of snow, no major meteorological records were broken, Keeney added.
“The one nice thing about this is that it is dropping some moisture that we need,” Keeney said.
“There is a lot of moisture content in the snow, so as it melts, it should penetrate into the soil and maybe help spring conditions as far as the drought goes.”
On average, the Kansas City area receives about 20 inches of snow each year, but in 2010 the region received approximately 30 inches, and in 2011, 34 inches fell.
“Up until 2012, the area was getting above normal snowfall in the winter,” he said. “Last year was quite a bit less and with the slow start this year, these latest big snowfalls have people talking.”