Caring for Your Roads in All Types of Winter
COOK COUNTY, MINNESOTA - February 5, 2019, 2019 (LSN) Depending upon where you reside at the time of reading this article, this winter’s snowfall may or may not seem out of the ordinary. As a matter of fact, snow accumulated earlier this year than recent Cook County winters according to data available from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Did you know that interested parties can retrieve user-friendly National Weather Service data through the DNR’s State Climatology Office webpage (http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/climate/index.html)?
Three locations associated with the National Weather Service’s observation program remain active in Cook County and provide important data for a myriad of agencies’ planning purposes: Gunflint Lake, Grand Portage, and Grand Marais. As winter nears the halfway point, I’ll share a few conclusions:
1. Until 2018, Grand Portage hasn’t recorded eight days of measurable snowfall in October and November since 2010. Grand Marais recorded seven days of measurable snowfall in November 2018, a number not seen since 1985. The monitoring site at Gunflint Lake tops this list with 19 days of measurable snowfall during October and November 2018.
2. Some of us remember the North Shore winter of 2013-2014 when the Gunflint Lake site documented an estimated 84 inches (seven feet) of snow. Thirty-nine inches of this snow fell from October 2013 through January 2014. In comparison, this site has documented approximately 44 inches of snow to-date since October of 2018. Snowfall totals to-date in Grand Portage are also comparable to the first half of the 2013-2014 season.
3. Based upon the past five years, snow depth throughout Cook County peaks between mid-February and early-March with the latest officially documented snow melting by mid-May. Stay tuned to find out if these trends will continue this year.
Will this winter break any records? Your guess is as good as mine, but the Highway Department prepares for all scenarios and strives to have all county roads passable within a reasonable amount of time after a snow or ice storm. Cook County operates a total of eight trucks and four graders based out of three facilities around the county in Grand Marais, Hovland and Tofte. When duty calls, a dedicated team of experienced Highway Maintenance Workers typically start work as early as 4 am. Road crews plow school bus routes and primary roads as soon as possible, but the specific amount of time needed to clear and sand roads varies from storm to storm. Unlike some metropolitan areas, Cook County does not staff two shifts for round-the-clock plowing coverage.
In addition to limited resources, air and road surface temperatures, wind, snowfall rate and varying moisture content, along with traffic levels cumulatively affect road conditions. A rural plow typically travels 20-25 miles per hour (mph), and heavy snow, limited visibility or icy conditions inhibit this estimated rate of plowing. Generally, the Highway Department estimates at least four to five hours to plow the driving lanes along the 57-mile Gunflint Trail, for example.
Urban snow removal usually takes longer than rural snow removal. Along city blocks, snow removal equipment cannot average 20 mph considering factors such as tighter corners, stop signs, parked cars, curbs, and increased traffic and pedestrian activity. Lack of snow storage can be another challenge within cities. When snowbanks reach heights interfering with drivers’ sight lines at intersections, agencies load and haul tall snowbanks to a nearby designated snow dump site.
While no single article enumerates all details involved with managing winter road maintenance services, Cook County invites residents and visitors to call the Highway Department Office at 218-387-3014 during business hours with any questions about road conditions or maintenance operations.
Your Cook County Highway Department team thanks everyone who drives vigilantly, especially during the winter season. Please keep in mind that snow removal equipment operates with significantly larger blind spots compared to automobiles, and plow or grader drivers sometimes operate in reverse to adequately push snowbanks or spread salt-sand at an intersection – give them room and use extra caution. Motorists should travel a minimum of five car-lengths behind a plow.
By: Krysten Foster,
Cook County Highway Engineer
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