Public Safety

The ABCs of C'mon Already: Will this trying winter ever end?

Kevin McIntyre, lead streets worker, plows snow on G Avenue NW in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Kevin McIntyre, lead streets worker, plows snow on G Avenue NW in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

There’s been snow. Lots of it. There’s been cold. Lots of that, too — enough to break records.

With the meteorological spring just days away on March 1, yet another snowstorm moves in.

Whether this is your first Iowa winter or whether you remember the walk to the Iowa schoolhouse as uphill both ways in knee-deep snow, you’ve probably found yourself wishing for spring once or twice over the past six weeks.

Here’s an A-Z guide for coping in hopes of making the most of the remaining days of winter.

A: Accumulation: Including this past weekend’s snowfall, we’re at 42.2 inches of snow for the season in Cedar Rapids. We’ve seen the most snow since the 2007-08 winter, when we had 55 inches. The average is just 20.9 inches, according to National Weather Service records. Five of the top 10 snowiest winters occurred since 2000.

B: Blowing snow: Blowing snow has been a problem this winter, with drifts more than 5-feet deep closing roads last week in multiple Eastern Iowa counties — and the mountains of snow shutting portions of roads in southwest Cedar Rapids. Winds are not expected to be a major factor in this storm, though they could be in another storm expected this weekend. Stay tuned.

C: C’mon already: Even for those who love winter, this season may be getting a bit trying. We all know cold and snow come with living in Iowa, but we’re ready to hang out with neighbors for bonfires, not helping each other clear the snow ridge at the base of the driveway after the plow comes through.

D: Driving: There have been at least 36 traffic fatalities in Iowa so far in 2019, many coming during winter driving conditions. The AAA advises you to stay home during snowfall and go out only if necessary. If you can’t alter plans, drive slower, turn on headlights, buckle up and plan extra travel time. Accelerate and brake much more slowly and increase distance between cars to at least six seconds. Not sure what to do? Iowa winter driving conditions can be found online at 511ia.org.

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E: Equinox, spring or vernal: The spring equinox occurs March 20 and marks the astronomical start to spring. While the date changes slightly each year, it marks when the sun passes over the equator from south to north. The equinox comes 10 days after Daylight Saving Time has us set clocks forward one hour on March 10.

F: Flood outlook: The National Weather Service is set Thursday to issue its first flood outlook for the spring. While an increased flood risk for the Corridor is expected, this forecast will factor snow moisture levels, soil saturation, rain predictions. ice jams and current river levels.

G: Ground moisture: Current topsoil and subsoil measurements show high moisture levels. Snow cover acts as a blanket and keeps heat in the ground while also reflecting the sun’s energy away from the ground.

H: Hydrants: Snow piles again are obscuring fire hydrants, with Cedar Rapids fire officials asking residents to clear a 3-foot radius around the city’s more than 6,600 hydrants. This helps keep them visible and prevents ice buildup. A few minutes of snow removal now can help crews when seconds matter.

I: Icicles and ice jams, oh my: The number of icicles and heavy blocks of ice near the gutter line may be growing. But unless there’s extreme risk, the best course of action is to leave them be. Take pictures and document where you’re seeing larger buildups so you can inspect the area in dryer conditions. Experts warn knocking down ice jams may cause unintended damage like pulling up roof materials or pulling down gutters.

J: Jokes: Police departments have been turning to humor on social media. It’s a contest to see who can post the funniest memes, with Iowa City police declaring the state “closed” at the end of January and Dubuque police sharing an arrest warrant for Mother Nature.

K: Kits, for winter survival: The frequency of snowstorms likely has meant the contents of your winter survival kit have scattered. Kits should include: flashlight, first aid provisions, snow shovel and ice scraper, blankets or sleeping bag, extra scarves and hats, cellphone and charger, bright cloth, extra medications you need, sand or kitty litter for traction.

L: Late newspapers: Frequent snowstorms, cold and drifting snow have made this a long winter for newspaper carriers. We give them more time during periods of heavy snow and cold temperatures because it takes longer to deliver the routes. This morning’s paper may again be late. We’ll open up complimentary access to the Green Gazette digital replica.

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M: Measurable snow: The good news is that we are just about 30 days away from the average last 1-inch or more snowfall for the season in Cedar Rapids. That typically happens on March 21, records show. The bad news is that the latest significant snowfall on record for here was a 4-inch snow that came April 30, 1994.

N: National Weather Service: The Quad Cities National Weather Service area is the team responsible for issuing Eastern Iowa’s winter weather advisories, winter storm watches and warnings, ice storm and blizzard warnings. All have been used in Iowa forecasts this year. Get the latest forecast at www.weather.gov/dvn.

O: Overexertion: The snowpiles at the end of the driveway are getting as tall as you are. With wetter, heavier snow expected, this snow will be heavier than several of the earlier storms this year. It’s recommended you stretch and warm up muscles before shoveling, and then make many lighter loads instead of fewer heavy loads. Take frequent breaks and drink water. Stop if you’re lightheaded and short of breath.

P: Pedestrian safety: While it may be tempting to blow off snow shoveling for the rest of the year, that’s a bad and costly idea. Many municipalities require you to clear sidewalks and nearby sidewalk ramps. While you’ve got 48 hours in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City wants sidewalks cleared within 24 hours of a snowfall of more than an inch. In some cases, landlords transfer snow and ice removal duty to their renters (check your lease). Those who don’t remove snow can face fines, plus the cost of snow removal.

Q: Quite beautiful: Large snowflakes, light winds and plenty of snowpack have made for plenty of beautiful scenes this winter. The fresh snow muffles plenty of sound, giving an opportunity to experience nature differently. The smell of Cedar Rapids during a Life cereal or Aunt Jemima production run at Quaker Oats adds to the beauty. If you haven’t made time to enjoy seeing the snowfilled trees, fresh animal tracks or other landscapes — in person or through triple-pane glass — it looks like you’ll have more chances.

R: Records: The 30-below zero low temperature Jan. 31 in Cedar Rapids broke the previous record low of 29 below on Jan. 15, 2009. The record low means it was 95 degrees cooler than the record high here on the same date — 65 degrees on Jan. 31, 1989. The coldest it’s ever been in Iowa was 47 below, set in 1912 in Northwestern Iowa’s Washta, and tied in 1996 near Elkader.

S: Sledding and skiing: There are great options for both. If you’ve not tried sledding the hills near Roosevelt Middle School, 300 13th St. NW in Cedar Rapids, Squaw Creek Park, 4305 Squaw Lane in Marion, or Bowman Woods in Cedar Rapids, what are you waiting for? All ski runs are open at Sundown Mountain in Dubuque. Hills not your speed? Cross-country ski trails are open and groomed at Cherry Hill Park, Ellis Park, Jones Park, Sac and Fox Trail, Twin Pines Golf Course and Seminole Valley Park.

T: Thaw: The polar vortex gave way to three straight days with high temperatures above 40 degrees, which helped a bulk of the January snow melt. Temperatures briefly hit 40 again on Valentine’s Day. While the warm temps led to a few days of dense fog and flight cancellations, the snow piles would be significantly deeper had that not occurred.

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U: Unbelievable video: If you’re done seeing video of grandkids sledding, the snow has created some other pretty awesome videos. Check out Cedar Rapids Public Works staff breaking through snow drifts on 26th Street SW, shown on the city’s Facebook page. Or view a 15-part Iowa Department of Transportation series on snowplowing on YouTube.

V: Vortex, polar: The polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air in the atmosphere that surrounds the earth’s poles, which strengthens in the winter. The flow of air is counterclockwise, which keeps the cold air near the poles — usually. Vortexes aren’t new and they aren’t unique to the United States. The Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a high risk for much below normal temperatures and another arctic outbreak through early March.

W: Wildlife: Animals will huddle together to conserve body heat during cold and snowy periods, Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials share. Turkeys roost in trees during bad weather, while deer may huddle together. Oftentimes, they’ll look for evergreen trees as windbreaks and try to orient themselves to get as much exposure to the southern sun as possible.

X: eXtra time: Parents are ill-advised to schedule an early June vacation. School districts still are trying to figure out when they can finish the school year. State law requires 1,080 instruction hours, or 180 days. Some districts are looking at canceling early dismissals, while Iowa City added 10 minutes to each school day starting this week. With more storms possible, superintendents are hesitant to declare a last day.

Y: Young help: While you still have the option of hiring a neighborhood kid to help clear snow, students have been lending an artistic hand to the Cedar Rapids Public Works Department. They’re helping paint snowplow blades. City crews drop the plows (paint, brushes and tarps) at schools and students paint a unique design on the blade. The blade then gets used on routes near the school or day care that helped create the design.

Z: Zzzz: A snowy day is a great time for a long winter’s nap. Before you settle in, though, make sure your car is off the street as many cities have declared snow emergencies. In Cedar Rapids, that means no parking on snow routes until 5 p.m. Thursday. Residents are asked to park on even sides today and odd sides of the street Thursday.

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