This was the year we got a snow shovel.
“We” as in my partner, after she saw the tediousness of using a regular shovel to break up the ice sheet that formed on the concrete steps to the back door. As the snow started to melt from the roof, it dripped onto the steps and froze overnight. Neither of us wanted to fall victim to gravity and end up like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football.
I’m not alone in thinking it’s time to change my approach to snowstorms.
City and county public works leaders take winter storms as lessons to learn.
Last month Lynnwood’s public works department launched a plow naming contest online to bring a touch of levity to the cold, dark doldrums of the season.
For Edmonds, there’s a reckoning after the late December snowstorms that blanketed Western Washington. Earlier this month Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson called to overhaul the city’s snow response plan.
“It’s been anywhere from 11 to 15 years since anything was updated,” Nelson said of the plan. “Obviously our population has grown, the weather has changed.”
Between Dec. 25 and early January, an estimated 6 to 8 inches fell in Edmonds, according to Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network data. The amount of snowfall and the duration of freezing temperatures formed ice on many city streets.
Snow is coming down good in Edmonds, WA #wawx #snow @NWSSeattle pic.twitter.com/aCQUkVFqcL— Benjamin Jurkovich (@BenjaminJurkovi) December 27, 2021
When people move on top of snow, it compacts into an ice sheet that most plows can’t remove. Plows generally are set to skim, not scrape, to avoid damaging the road or the plow.
In Edmonds, two plows operated 24 hours per day and a third plow 14 hours daily during the snowstorms. City crews dropped over 400 tons of sand and 3,000 gallons of anti-ice solution on the roads.
“You see how hard our public works crews were out there working, then people’s frustrations with the results just because of the sheer volume of the snow,” Nelson said.
A mixture of salt and sand can help break ice down. But Edmonds officials have been wary about using too much salt because of the environmentally sensitive nature of being a hilly city where things wash downstream into a marsh, or into Puget Sound.
“We have always tried to be a leader when it comes to protecting our environment,” Nelson said. “Salt is extremely toxic. It doesn’t break down. It gets in the water and stays there.”
In 2018 the Columbia University Climate School reported on the problems that road salt can contribute to, such as higher salinity in drainage areas over the past 50 years.
Nelson hopes to propose changes to the snow response plan within 30 days, he said.
@cityofedmonds be like …. Naw we don't need to salt or plow the main road… #pnw #Washington #edmonds #wa #snow pic.twitter.com/Se77p7ZRvA— JR (@MrJZ3K) December 28, 2021
For some, snow response review is a regular process that gets hashed out in annual review each fall. That’s the case in Everett and Lynnwood.
Everett didn’t have major issues that would result in changing its snow removal plan, spokesperson Julio Cortes said.
Lynnwood’s public works team reviews its snow removal response after each storm, spokesperson Julie Moore said. That meeting includes discussing what went well, what can improve, supply needs and equipment issues.
“Our team is constantly evaluating and re-evaluating our response efforts,” Moore said.
They hadn’t met after the snow melted while the staff addressed emergency road work and urban flooding.
Edmonds was dealing with similar local flooding, which overwhelmed its wastewater treatment plant. The facility was designed to handle 5 million gallons per day but saw 30 million gallons after the snow began melting, Mayor Nelson said.
“We’re still in the recovery mode,” he said. “It went from the snow to the flooding to omicron.”
Lynnwood restored six of its live traffic cameras at LynnwoodWA.gov/LiveTrafficCameras just before the snowstorms and plans to add more soon. It’s a helpful tool for anyone who wants to assess road or traffic conditions.
Public works staff in Lynnwood collected about 250 submissions for snow plow names last month. They whittled it down to 11 for public online voting.
Most are named-based puns: Blade Runner, Darth Blader, David Plowie, Doogie Plower, For Your Ice Only, Frosty the snow plow, Snowbi Wan Kenobi, and There’s No Business Like Snow Business.
The rest are more esoteric: Sleipnir (pronounced like sleep-near), which was the name of Norse god Odin’s eight-legged horse; Yukon Cornelius, from the 1964 stop-motion Christmas movie “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”; and Plowy McPlowface, which undoubtedly came from the internet-seized “Boaty McBoatface.”
They’re not all original, according to an October 2021 report from KXLY in Spokane. Boulder, Colorado named a plow Darth Blader. Minnesota Department of Transportation has a Darth Blader, a Snowbi Wan Kenobi and a Plowie McPlowface.
With such an overwhelming response for name submissions, the city plans to name two of its six plows. The top choice will be the name of the larger plow, a 10-foot long American Sno-Plow, which gets mounted on the front of the city’s 2009 International Workstar dump truck. The name with the second-highest vote tally will be for a smaller plow.
There are no plans to name the other plows yet.
“We’ll see if we can name our whole fleet,” said Moore, who voted for the Star Wars-themed names. “Secretly I’m hoping one of them is Plowie McPlowface.”
It won’t just be ceremonial. The names will get emblazoned on the plows themselves via a decal.
Lynnwood staff also are developing an education campaign for people about clearing snow from sidewalks.
Plow name voting closes after Sunday, Jan. 23.
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