Ask the Chief
Recently people have asked how we go about deciding to declare a snow emergency and what does it really mean. First, a snow emergency is a city ordinance that permits the city to order no parking on city streets for the purpose of doing street maintenance.
This includes snow removal but could also include flooding, street repair and other traffic situations where parking a vehicle on the street would impair our ability to do the required maintenance.
When it comes to snow, we rely upon several weather services to determine if plowing will be needed.
Our street department supervisor reviews the prediction and then based upon experience, makes the decision. For instance, if we are expecting ice and slush we may call a snow emergency so that we can get the slushy mix off of the roadway before it freezes and becomes a traffic hazard.
Another scenario would be an ice/snow mix of as little as an inch because even this small amount can cause a significant hazard to traffic when it freezes hard.
For a plain and simple snowstorm, we will plow for 2+ inches of accumulation.
Note: This is pretty standard throughout the state. It is important to keep in mind that plowing is not just for when a large snowfall occurs and you can't drive through it.
Another consideration is for what the road conditions would be like after vehicles have started driving, packing down the snow and the heat from the vehicles has caused some to melt and then freeze to the street.
For example, on January 12, we declared a snow emergency and expected to plow the next morning at 4 am. We had expected 2 inches of snow but we did not receive that amount.
Based upon the 1" of snow received, it was decided not to plow but instead, we cleared city parking lots, sidewalks, and sanded intersections.
So what does this really mean? It means we do the best we can, based upon a "prediction" of future snowfall. We are conservative in our actions in the belief that we would rather call a snow emergency and end up not needing one than to not call one and wish we would have.
Many people from town and surrounding communities have commented about how nice our streets are plowed as compared to other cities.
Some have even gone so far as to ask us to contact their city leaders and share with them our policy and procedures. Another point to make is that by having no vehicles on the road, our plow drivers are able to plow curb to curb in one pass (each direction).
This saves us valuable time, fuel and wear on our equipment by not having to plow streets 2 or 3 times, which in turn saves a great deal of taxpayer money.
The reason our streets are as nice and safe as they are is because of how we use the snow emergency ordinance. If you have additional questions or concerns please contact me at 507-360-7864