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More than half a foot of snow and high winds forced Wapakoneta and Auglaize County crews to hit the roads Wednesday to help travelers get home as many work places closed early.
Wapakoneta Safety-Service Director Bill Rains explained the city operated with a different plan of attack for the winter storm that dumped approximately 5 inches of snow starting at daybreak and another 3 inches of snow during the afternoon.
“We ran with two shifts during the day and then hit it hard at night,” Rains said. “For the most part, the crews did a pretty good job clearing the streets in regard to the event we had with heavy snows, slush and high winds.
“The roads are not completely cleared but we are out putting salt down and we are letting that work and today should bring some sun so that should help the salt work so when we go back and plow we can get the streets clear,” the safety-service director said. “At present crews are cleaning up the downtown area and then they will get back out into the residential areas. Unless something drastic happens, we will probably call in crews at the end of the day to give them a break.”
Mayor Rodney Metz did not declare a state of emergency, while St. Marys Mayor Pat McGowan did issue a level 2 emergency. Auglaize County Sheriff Al Solomon will not issue any level of emergency but will release a road condition report.
Rains said he intends to discuss the issue of levels with Metz as parked vehicles make it more difficult to plow streets. Rains noted snowplow crews remarked it was easier to plow with less traffic on the roads.
With the holiday and snow, Rains said trash pickup will remain the same over the holidays with Tuesday and Wednesday pick-up days being conducted on Wednesday.
Crews continued to pick up Wednesday recyclables on Wednesday, but they did not pickup Tuesday recyclables. Residents with typical Tuesday recycling pickup will have to wait until Jan. 8.
County crews plowed roads all day Wednesday and were back out plowing them today.
“About all of the county roads have had a complete round already and have been treated,” Auglaize County Engineer Doug Reinhart said this morning. “Roads are still snow covered and slippery, and we have knocked back all the drifts. Hopefully later this morning we can make a second round and make another application.”
During the most intense snowfall of Wednesday’s storm, snow plow drivers had a tough time maintaining visibility. Strong winds created reduced visibility, which caused issues for drivers.
“As the snow was coming off the plow, if they were heading in the right direction, it all blew back into the windshield,” Reinhart said. “We had 18 trucks out trying to keep roads passable for the people who did make it to work.”
To get roads cleared for motorists, county crews hit routes at 4:30 a.m. Reinhart noted if the wind remained calm, crews should be able to make a lot of progress today.
“What we plow off will stay off the roads,” Reinhart said. “Our biggest challenge now will be to get the loaders and backhoes out in the areas where we have snow stacked up with no place to put it.”
The blizzard took a bite out of Reinhart’s fuel budget. Five years ago Reinhart used to budget $200,000 for fuel each winter. That figure is now up to $400,000.
“We plow 350 miles, 700 miles for both sides,” Reinhart said. “If we are out all day, it’s not uncommon to make three to four rounds so it adds up.”
The blizzard caused local and county agencies to issue a slew of advisories and warnings.
By 2 p.m., Mercer County was under a level 3 snow emergency — which effectively closed the roads to the public.
At the same time, Solomon urged the public to keep off roads to reduce the chances for accidents.
“I can remember during the ice storm, people had to move and there was a lot of confusion,” Solomon said, noting Shelby County also does not use the level system. “People had to deliver meals to the elderly and at one point, some thought we were at a level 3 and in fact we were not closing the roads. If the sheriff needs to close the roads, he can close the roads.
“People here have seen snow before and if the know the conditions, for the most part, they act accordingly,” the sheriff said. “I give credit to those who know the conditions.”
Solomon praised the work of county and township crews for keeping roads as clear as possible during the storm.
McGowan issued his level 2 snow warning for the city in the afternoon. Under that level, the public was encouraged to keep off city roads and move vehicles off the roads so crews could clear snow from the roadways.
Businesses and factories also closed for a portion of the day. Midwest Electric closed its office and Crown told second and third shift workers to remain at home during the storm.
Auglaize County EMA Director Troy Anderson said motorists appeared to pay attention to the weather conditions and kept off roads during the height of the storm. That allows crews to clear roads without having to battle traffic.
“That’s good because it gave everyone a chance, or at least an attempt, to keep the roads clean,” Anderson said. “Less people on the roads means less accidents. We also were fortunate enough to have no outages or we would have been in a world of hurt setting up shelters.”
Roads are expected to be at least partially covered for the next few days as temperatures will struggle to break the freezing point. Anderson stressed the importance of safe driving while motorists venture out during the upcoming holiday.
“I am seeing cars passing me doing 60 to 65 mph,” Anderson said. “All it takes is to hit a chunk or pothole in the snow and that will be enough to jerk your tire and you’ll lose control.”
EL Managing Editor Mike Burkholder contributed to this story.