It was decidedly not a winter wonderland that greeted township residents Dec. 15, as drifting snow and whiteouts made getting around a miserable challenge.
The blowing snow in some areas was so bad that both public works departments had to pull their plows off the roads at one point, and the Waterloo Regional Police closed several roads, including major routes into and out of Elmira.
“I don’t think we anticipated the whiteout conditions that we ended up getting,” said Woolwich public works superintendent Barry Baldasaro.
“Drifting is always an added bonus to Woolwich Township. Sometimes it’s more problematic than the actual amount of snow you get, but the whiteout conditions had a significant impact to our ability to operate and one point we pretty well pulled the plows off the road up in the northern part of the township.”
He said the winds weren’t as bad south of Elmira as they were in town and points north, so they were able to continue operating on some of their other routes.
Generally speaking their approach to winter is to be out early enough in the morning to get people to work and to stay out late enough in the afternoon to get people home for the evening commute.
He said the northern end of the township tends to get more snow than the Breslau end and the north-south roads are more often subjected to drifting snow.
“When we have a lot of high winds happening throughout the township, there are north south roads on pretty much every route that need almost constant attention while the winds are blowing,” Baldasaro said.
He says the big challenge actually came on Friday morning after the winds had died down.
“I’ve been here for 13 years and it was probably my toughest morning of road patrol trying to get through roads that were pretty significantly drifted in,” Baldasaro said.
Visibility was an issue even in town where drivers were running into each other on Barnswallow Drive because they could only see as far as the front of their car. It was eventually closed by police.
He’d like to see drivers in all areas drive according to the conditions, but especially on rural roads.
Township director of finance Richard Petherick says at the end of November they had spent $574,720 of their $688,246 snow clearing budget. This left about 16.5 per cent of their budget for the month of December. They were helped by mild weather in the early part of 2016 (the budget covers the calendar year). There are no numbers yet for how the budget was affected by last week’s storm.
Charlie Koebel of Wellesley’s public works department says they felt prepared for the storm.
“We had a little bit of delay there when it was storming. I think at one point our trucks were off the road for a couple hours just because of the high winds, but we were back on again and made sure everything was cleared up,” Koebel said.
They decide to pull plows off the roads when the plow drivers call in to say there’s no visibility. They tell the drivers to get into town and pull off the road until it clears up. While the township didn’t close any roads, some of the regional roads in the township were closed by police.
He says the worst roads in the township when there’s blowing snow are the ones with banks on each side. He also adds that the paved roads are the most dangerous when there’s zero visibility because they have the most traffic.
“If you don’t have to travel, don’t, and stay home. And if you do, be very cautious and take your time. That’s the big thing. And make sure your vehicle’s cleared off , so you can see out all the windows,” Koebel said.
Woolwich Township deputy fire chief Dale Martin says they spent most of the day blocking roads and attending to some car crashes. He notes the north and west ends of Woolwich had the worst driving conditions that day.
Every road they closed was under police direction.
“The biggest issue was closing the roads because of visibility. It wasn’t that the accidents were real serious, but a number of places had multiple vehicles. We weren’t really involved in the accidents too much at all,” Martin said.
He reminds drivers that roads are closed for their safety, and barricades should be obeyed.
“If there’s bad storms and the roads are closed, don’t drive around a roadblock. They’re closed for a reason. So some places they were driving around a road block, well that’s just asking for trouble. If there’s already a pile up and they go around a roadblock they’ll end up in the mess themselves,” Martin said.