by Terry Rogers
Around 7 PM on Wednesday, January 4, light snow began to fall in Milford and the surrounding areas. Even before the first snowflake fell, schools announced that they would be closed on Thursday, January 5 and many events were cancelled. The reason for the cancellations was the predictions of a major winter storm with blizzard-like conditions. Although snow amounts were not set, averaging between 1 and 5 inches of snow, high winds and extremely low temperatures would lead to drifting and white-out conditions.
“It started a little bit before we expected…,” Mark Whitfield, Director of Public Works for the City of Milford, said. “We had planned to come in at midnight, so we needed to get a crew here about an hour earlier than expected. But, we were prepared and crews responded promptly.”
Snow fell steadily overnight, and by morning, about three inches lay on the grounds and roadways. Weather forecasters called the storm a “bomb cyclone” due to its fast drop in atmospheric pressure. The lower the pressure, the stronger the storm will be. In order to be called a “bomb,” the pressure in the storm must drop at least 24 millibars in 24 hours. Winter Storm Grayson’s pressure dropped 59 millibars in 24 hours, making it one of the most explosive East Coast storms in recent history.
By Thursday evening, when the snow finally stopped, snowfall totals in Milford were around 5 inches, although it was difficult to measure due to the winds. The snow was extremely light because the temperatures were so low, so high winds caused extreme drifting. Many roadways were made impassable due to high drives. Governor Jack Markell issued Level 1 Driving Restrictions early Thursday morning for the entire state, but changed them to a Level 2 for Sussex County until noon on Friday.
City of Milford crews spent the days before the storm preparing trucks, plows and spreaders. An order of salt was delivered on Wednesday to replenish any that was used in December. “Due to the timing of the storm, we did not do any pretreatment,” Mr. Whitfield said. “However, there was enough salt residue on the road that it bought us a few hours on Wednesday night. On Thursday, every piece of equipment for snow removal was deployed. We concentrated on main roads and keeping a small path through developments until the storm ended. Once it was over, we began to plow back roads and apply deicing materials. Our goal was to have roads bare prior to temperatures falling, however, the wind was our enemy to accomplish that.” Although the wind remained a factor throughout Friday and Saturday, City crews worked to get roads clear and then concentrated on parking lots and intersections. Roads were passable and plowed by Thursday evening, although drifting snow made some sections slippery.
As late as Thursday afternoon, motorists were being told to remain home if they did not have to venture out. If they did have to leave their homes, they were urged to drive slowly and be aware of open fields where drifting snow could cover the roadways. Even though main highways were mostly clear, some sections continued to be icy due to drifting, so motorists were encouraged to drive below the speed limit and to watch ahead for sections that may be ice-covered.
“The best thing to do when there is a winter storm like this is to only go out if absolutely necessary,” Mr. Whitfield said. “Move cars off the street in order to allow the City to plow adequately. We are already preparing for the next storm, making sure we have adequate salt and performing maintenance on equipment. The hardest part during a storm is making sure our crews get adequate rest between shifts.”
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