A good job by public works

Published 8:00 pm Saturday, February 28, 2015

In a place like Southeast Virginia, where winter weather can mean anything from sunny skies with temperatures in the 70s to blustery below-zero wind chill factors, planning for snow removal is no easy task.

Most folks around here would not trade the often-mild winter days for the very best in snow management, and municipal governments can hardly afford to pay for fleets of top-of-the-line snowplows and people with the experience to operate them.

But folks need to be able to get to work and school safely, and to in order for them to do that, at least the primary and secondary roads must be reasonably clear. Cities in Hampton Roads have mixed success each winter in accomplishing that task, and Suffolk’s two most recent snowstorms point out the challenges they face.

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Suffolk’s mid-February storm brought a measure of ice with the snow, along with bitterly cold temperatures that made the brine mixture favored by the city less effective a measure in the battle to keep roads clear. The result was roads that continued to be a problem days after the storm.

On the other hand, last week’s storm left more snow on the ground, but the city’s primary and secondary roads were remarkably clear within 24 hours of the snowfall ending.

As with the first storm, there were environmental factors at work in the second, this time aiding in the snow removal efforts. Warmer temperatures before and after the storm, for instance, made a big difference.

But the city also made some changes to the way it prepared for the second storm — notably adding a blue dye to the brine that helped plow operators gauge its effectiveness and their progress in clearing the roads. Their efforts made a big difference for those folks who needed to drive the day after the storm.

Suffolk is unlikely ever to be the kind of place where all the roads will be cleared within hours of a snowstorm. But it’s heartening to know the city’s public works department continues to work to improve its response. And it’s gratifying to know they’re on the job, ‘round the clock, before, during and after winter storms.