After a sleet and ice storm laid a white carpet across the region Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 6-7, J.R. McMahon said this winter has been unlike any other in his 35 years working for Miami County.
“In Miami County, this has never happened before as long as I’ve been around — we’ve been in a blizzard warning, we’ve been in a winter storm warning and now we’ve been in an ice storm warning,” said McMahon, director of the Road and Bridge Department. “That usually doesn’t happen in the same year, and this thing started in November. We had snow storms in early November.”
Road and Bridge crews started treating roads at about 9 p.m. Wednesday and worked through the night and the next day until dark, McMahon said. Crews were back at it Friday morning.
“We’re doing mop up work today,” McMahon said Friday morning. “We’ve got motor graders out on gravel roads — it’s hard to chew off the sleet and ice.”
Precipitation created hazardous driving conditions as early as Tuesday, Feb. 5, on county roads and highways.
A 64-year-old Mound City man was killed at about 11 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5, when the 2002 Chevrolet Silverado he was driving southbound on U.S. Highway 169 crashed near 355th Street in Miami County, according to a Kansas Highway Patrol report.
Dennis J. Gentry was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the highway patrol report. He was the only occupant. According to the report, the Silverado was southbound on U.S. 169, north of 355th Street, when it crossed a bridge and Gentry lost control of the vehicle.
The Miami County Sheriff’s Office responded to numerous calls related to the storm: seven non-injury accidents, one injury accident, two vehicles in the ditch and two motorist assists.
“We had extra staff in Patrol and Communications divisions,” Capt. Matthew Kelly, with the sheriff’s office, said. “Court security closed and assisted with those divisions as well.
“School and work closures were instrumental to keeping vehicles off the roadway during the inclement weather, preventing injuries and property damage,” Kelly said.
The Miami County District Court Office and the Miami County Attorney’s Office also were closed Thursday because of the storm.
Hazardous driving conditions and bitterly cold temperatures prompted Paola, Osawatomie, Louisburg and Prairie View school districts to cancel classes Thursday and Friday, Feb. 7-8. With hazardous driving conditions persisting through the weekend, those four school districts also scuttled classes for Monday, Feb. 11.
It was all hands on deck for the county’s Road and Bridge Department during the storm. The department’s work continued long after the sleet stopped.
McMahon said the department used six main trucks, three single-axle trucks and two four-by-four vehicles to carry out its work on county roads, laying down a mixture of sand and salt.
“Usually it’s a combination of five parts sand to one part salt,” he said. “With sleet and ice, typically you can go to a seven-to-one ratio.”
In this area, most people don’t realize the mixture relies on traffic to be most effective, McMahon said.
“The salt will lay on there, and it takes that traffic to put it into what’s called brine,” McMahon said. “That’s why you see the main routes are the first cleared.”
He said county crews put down the same material on all the roads.
“When you get a road that only has two to three or four hundred cars a day, that’s just not enough traffic, so we put down abrasives, a man-made sand, and that goes ahead and lets people drive,” McMahon said.
He said crews were also using Friday to maintain the vehicles. He said the county has not encountered any problems with its equipment.
McMahon said storms this winter have drawn down the county’s supply of salt, but not exhausted it.
“We think we have got enough salt for around four more storms,” McMahon said. “Now that days are getting longer and temperatures are starting to jump up you don’t have to use as much salt.”