Archived Story

A week after the first snowfall, drivers are adapting to winter conditions

Published 11:51am Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Otter Tail County employees Rick West and Rick Hoium knew this year would present a more challenging driving adjustment than most for vehicles on the road.

The first snowfall of the year came last week and hit hard, leaving inches on the ground over a few days. The temperatures quickly dropped to below zero, turning some of that accumulated snow into ice and compacting it on the roads.

“All of a sudden, the weather dramatically changes and it catches all of us off-guard a little bit,” said Hoium, the county highway maintenance supervisor.

Hoium personally observed several near-accidents early last week, with drivers not yet reacclimated to the increased stopping distances and decreased traction on the roads.

But a week later, West, the county public works director, said most drivers have begun using safer techniques, driving slower and stopping much earlier. These habits will serve drivers well during the winter months.

Otter Tail County does not have a dry pavement policy, according to West. Unlike the state, which will plow highways until they are bare, the county is unable to work the hours necessary to completely clear the roads.

“We certainly don’t have the resources to place chemicals until we’ve got a bare pavement,” West said.

County plows will generally be out for eight-hour shifts, from 4 a.m. to 12 p.m. If a storm is particularly nasty, drivers go out for another shift from about 2 to 6 p.m.

Otter Tail County has 26 plow routes and 28 active plows. These plows operate in three different areas of the county, including Area 1, made up of Fergus Falls, Ashby, Battle Lake and other surrounding towns.

This year’s first storm was not remarkably heavy, but was atypical in that there was not a smaller, preceding event to remind people winter weather was on the way. Couple that with the relatively quick temperature change and last week was not a county official’s dream.

“Great day to build a snowman, not such a great day for the roads,” Hoium said.

Some of the compacted snow on the roads will likely be there until the spring melt. Because of this, Hoium said drivers should no longer be using their cruise controls. West also cautioned drivers to have a winter survival kit in their cars and bring warm clothes wherever they go.

“We all kind of forget what winter is all about,” West said.

But with a week to adjust, both West and Hoium feel drivers in Otter Tail County have had more than enough time to remember.

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