City braces under first major winter event

City of Oswego snow plows, like the one seen above outside the offices of The Palladium-Times on West First Street, hit the roads last night in anticipation of the first significant snowstorm of the year.

OSWEGO — As forecasters call for central New York to wake up this morning with anywhere from a dusting in some areas to double-digit inches of snow in others, Port City leaders say a “well-oiled machine” is ready for another winter season.

“Public safety is my biggest responsibility, so there’s pressure, but these are the challenges we live for,” Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow told The Palladium-Times on Monday, just minutes before the first flakes began to fall at 11 a.m..

The National Weather Service, calling it a “hazardous weather outlook,” has declared a winter storm warning until 9 a.m. Local predictions are calling for the snow to continue until Thursday or Friday. Between 6-10 inches of snow are likely, according to federal forecasters, with higher elevations likely to receive a greater amount.

“Travel will be very difficult,” the winter storm warning states. “Widespread accumulating snow and ice will create dangerous travel conditions.”

To underscore the threat posed by the predicted storm, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday announced that “all available snow and ice equipment is ready to deploy” for state roads. Some of those resources include 1,581 large plow trucks, 182 medium plows and more than 128,000 tons of road salt, state officials said.

For Oswego officials, planning for winter storm events comes with the territory.

“After four years, we’ve had so many of these situations that we continue to learn, and we’re confident communication will be outstanding and cooperation will be great,” Barlow said.

Part of that confidence comes from proper preparation, according to Barlow and city Department of Public Works (DPW) Commissioner Tom Kells.

For more than a month now, Kells said DPW crews have been breaking into the winter gear and equipment garage, “getting everything out of storage, checking it over and making sure we’re ready for something just like this.”

Starting 9 a.m. Monday, Kells said he directed his personnel to “pre-salt” city streets (“it’s like putting PAM on your cookie sheet — the dough doesn’t stick”) and workers will be scheduled in 24-hour snow removal shifts until the worst of the storm is over.

The city’s eight snow plows will criss-cross east and west side streets, pushing endless white flakes  out of the way to clear a path for citizen drivers. The heavy plow fleet, wielding 31-foot blades, augments the DPW’s standard pick-up trucks, now outfitted with plows retrieved from summer storage.

Barlow, elected in 2015, earned a bachelor’s degree in emergency management but may as well now hold a PhD in snow removal.

“I enjoy when it’s happening,” Barlow said. “Calling audibles, redirecting resources, readjusting based on the conditions — that’s when I enjoy being in the position I am.”

In addition to day-of tactical decisions and execution, Barlow and Kells both said the city’s approach to managing snow events has improved since their first winter together four years ago.

“Prior to this administration, we weren’t ahead of storms,” Kells said.

Consider, if you will, salt: road salt, rock salt, Halite, if you’re being technical. Sells in retail by the 50-pound bag, doesn’t go well on eggs. The city of Oswego spends $300,000 per year on the stuff for a simple reason: they need it.

Salt depresses the freezing point of water, making it less likely for roads to ice over. A 10-percent solution of water and salt freezes at 20 degrees while a 20-percent solution will freeze at 2 degrees.

Previous administrations, Kells said, spread on roads a mixture of salt and salt in equal parts. Sand is only effective as an agent in a de-icing compound at extreme cold temperatures, Kells said, and once the city started identifying places to reduce inefficencies, they were off to the races.

“There’s a lot more science to it than just throwing some stuff on the road,” a chuckling Kells said. “The cleanup in spring is, by far, a lot less and we use a lot less salt than we used to.”

 There’s also the human component of storm management, which Barlow said has his full confidence.

“Everybody always pulls through when we need to — the police department, fire department, the DPW.,” he said. “Our plow drivers are the best in the business at handling high snow accumulation and low visibility.”

Despite the extensive city efforts to mitigate the effects of a heavy snowfall, officials are still asking for assistance with making it through the first of what will likely be many such events this season.

“We need the public’s help to do the best job we can,” Kells said. “On those narrow streets, give us some room to get through and use caution.”

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