You never know what the weather might do in Cape Girardeau. Just last month, the city saw temperatures below zero and in the sixties over a span of a few days.
From one hour to the next, one day to the next, the weather here has wild swings. Winters can be mild with little to no snow for the entire season. Or we can have blizzards. Or ice storms.
It’s up to the city’s public works department to be prepared for the worst of winter weather. In all, the city maintains 230 miles of streets in Cape Girardeau. This does not include roads in the city limits maintained by the Missouri Department of Transportation, Southeast Missouri State University or the Cape Special Road District.
When the snow or ice comes, we might think about the trucks that are on the roads and whether the streets are clear enough to get out and about. We wonder when they’re going to get to our streets, and whether we can make it to work or school. We might think about the safety of the drivers who run the plows in the worst of road conditions. But a lot more goes into winter street operations than we tend to think about.
Months of prep work
To prepare for winter events, the City of Cape Girardeau will top off the salt shed with 2,500 tons of salt to begin the winter season. The city takes bids on salt in the late summer and the salt usually arrives in October. It’s around this time that the city’s public works crews inspect and prepare their equipment. They check all the trucks, plows and salt spreaders, as well as the brine tanks.
The city maintains 14 trucks for plowing and salting operations. And each truck needs a driver, who is required to have a Class B commercial driver’s license. Truck operators start with an hourly wage of $14.68 per hour, plus benefits. The city also offers a certification stipend of $6,000 to be paid over three years for new employees who have and maintain a current CDL (commercial driver’s license).
A lot of work is done long before the meteorologists begin warning of possible inclement weather. To prepare for snow and ice, people have to be trained and hired. Salt has to be purchased. Equipment is inspected. You might say, beginning in October, there is a flurry of activity to prepare for winter.
In the hours before an expected storm, the city may apply liquid salt brine to bridges, dead-end streets, and hills. Once it starts snowing and again depending on the situation, the plow operators might spread salt and plow the streets around the clock—24/7, as long as it takes to get the job done. How the city pretreats and attacks winter storms depends on many factors, which include expected weather conditions, current weather conditions and the best use of resources. For example, the city will avoid using brine when the forecast calls for a storm to start as rain, as the brine will simply wash off the streets. Some extreme weather temperatures make salt ineffective, so the city may wait until the temperature rises to apply the salt.
The city’s snow routes are divided into three priorities in seven zones. The three priorities are assigned based on the volume of traffic. The high-priority streets are cleared before moving on to second- and third-priority streets. If your residential street isn’t yet clear, it’s because the city’s plow operators haven’t yet conquered the main arteries. As long as it continues to snow, chances are the crews will be hitting the first-priority streets.
Advice for residents
The city offers advice for those who are clearing their driveways. Plow operators push snow to the side of the road, which has the consequence of ruining otherwise perfectly shoveled driveways. It’s a pain, we know, but it just can’t be prevented. The snow-plow experts recommend clearing 15 feet along the curb line in advance of your driveway. Most of the snow from the plow will be deposited in this clear area, leaving with you less shoveling to do later on.
The city requests, if possible, that cars be moved from street parking. Reduce your speed and give the plows plenty of room.
Another tip for you to consider before driving in the snow is knowing what your vehicle insurance covers if you were to get stuck or slide into a ditch. Insurance companies often cover towing and are usually available to call a tow truck for you. So, make sure you’ve got access to your insurance company’s phone number. Make sure your phone is charged. Put a small shovel in the trunk, just in case. Emergency personnel are on call to help assist with accidents involving injuries or accidents that block traffic, but they’re sure to be busy during winter storms, so only call them if necessary.
The city doesn’t clear sidewalks. That’s up to homeowners and businesses, per city code. When you see a truck with its plow raised, that may mean it is spreading salt instead.
Big snow and ice storms cause problems. Everything moves slower than normal. Safety is paramount. If you can enjoy the snow from the comforts of home, we recommend it, at least until city crews make the streets safe again. If you must get out, leave lots of room and drive slowly.
Depending on the size and intensity of the storm, it can take a day or more to get all the streets cleared. But that day of work is a year-round job, fulfilled by the public works department and supporting departments within the city government.