CEDAR RAPIDS — Windy conditions and blowing snow should make for a second day of dangerous travel, as road crews battle back from Mother Nature’s combo punch of snow and bitter cold.
Eastern Iowa crews will work through the night to plow away what is predicted to be up to eight inches of snow from Winter Storm Gorgon. They are prepared to go full force again Tuesday to finish the job, including clearing out residential areas, said officials from the Iowa Department of Transportation, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City.
"We will have everyone in," said Mike Duffy, street operations superintendent for Cedar Rapids, adding all 94 snow clearing units should see action to keep 1,400 lane miles safe. "It usually takes us up to 12 hours to get everything cleared once the snow stops."
Much of Eastern Iowa was under a Hazardous Weather Outlook and Winter Storm Warning through the National Weather Service. Cedar Rapids declared a snow emergency through noon Tuesday, meaning cars cannot be parked on emergency snow routes. Those can be found by clicking here.
Clearing the first significant snowfall of the season is one thing, but single-digit or subzero temperatures complicates the job. Salt starts losing effectiveness at about 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Tuesday’s high is expected to be 10 degrees with minus 3 the high for Wednesday.
Duffy said Cedar Rapids will add flake calcium chloride to the salt-sand mix to extend melting properties down to minus 25 degrees. The Iowa DOT uses a brine to enhance the power of the salt and switches to chloride when it gets extremely cold to "burn" through ice. Iowa City uses a beet juice additive.
The beet juice is sticky so it adheres to the road better than salt. But promises of subzero effectiveness for the beet juice have proved overly generous, said Jon Resler, streets superintendent in Iowa City.
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“The challenge is, it just doesn't melt well and it doesn't melt fast, and beyond that it doesn't melt at all,” Resler said of de-icing products the more temperatures drop. “Our goal is to get the snow off the roadway as quickly as possible.”
Plows had already hit the roads in Iowa City by midafternoon Monday, in the early hours of the storm. Typically, Iowa City plows will wait until more snow has fallen. Given the conditions, however, Iowa City wanted to get a head start, Resler said.
Both cities were planning to wait to apply de-icer after the roads were cleared, except for hills and dangerous curves. If the snow melts and freezes over before it is cleared, it could create a dangerous layer of ice that can be hard get rid of for several days or more during a deep freeze.
Gorgon produced dry and powdery snow, which should minimize the risk of ice cover, but it will be more susceptible to the wind expected today. This could cause poor visibility and snow drifts on roads, according to the National Weather Service.
"Crews will work to plow snow on DOT roadways around the clock," Cathy Cutler, a transportation planner for the Iowa DOT district 6 office, said on Monday. "If winds pick back up, motorists need to be aware a once clear road can blow back with the same snow."
In Cedar Rapids, people can get information directly from the city by signing up for text or email alerts at CityofCR.com/Subscribe. The Iowa DOT has information at 511ia.org. Cedar Rapids and Iowa City School districts are communicating with families through email, texts, and social media. Iowa City issues notice of cancellation or delays by 6 a.m. Cedar Rapids makes a decision by 5:30 a.m. Both schools provide notice of early dismissal by 10 a.m.
All of the agencies also provide information through local media outlets.
The mild winter thus far has left ample winter supplies at stores, such as Do It Best Edgewood Hardware and Vernon Village True Value in Cedar Rapids.
"We are starting to move some shovels and ice melt. People certainly seem to be worried about it since this is the first storm in a year," said Phil Cronin, manager at True Value. "But we are in really good shape."
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With the bitter cold, Hans House, vice chair of education at the University of Iowa Department of Emergency Medicine, said there are some health concerns. The biggest are hypothermia from extended exposure outdoors, trauma in the form of head injuries from falling on ice or a vehicle collision, and carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty heater or trying to heat the home with a stove.
He said his best advice is to stay home and drive carefully if you must leave.