116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Incoming winter storm filled with uncertainties
Iowa’s fluctuating temperatures continue wear and tear of roads
CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa’s peculiar weather is on full display this week as city crews took advantage of the unseasonably warm temperatures to fix potholes Tuesday, then prepare to clear blowing snow of up to 7 inches in freezing conditions Thursday.
Talk about the state’s famous weather fluctuations: Highs will drop 25 degrees by Friday before starting to rebound this weekend.
Another winter storm, coming after days of unseasonable warmth, is expected to blow through portions of Eastern Iowa and northwest Illinois Wednesday night into Thursday evening. A swath of Eastern Iowa including Cedar Rapids and Iowa City was placed under a winter storm watch Tuesday afternoon, with snow of 4 to 7 inches predicted by the National Weather Service.
Meteorologists with the weather service’s bureau in Quad Cities — and Cedar Rapids’ street maintenance personnel — are keeping an eye on where the heaviest band of precipitation may shift, which will determine how much snow will fall where. Rain could be thrown into the mix, too, which would leave a glaze over the snow.
The Quad Cities bureau projects that the system will be much colder than last week’s heavy, wet event. Bitterly cold wind chills dropping into negative single digits and teens will follow the storm Thursday night into Friday.
Snow should begin to fall in Eastern Iowa late Wednesday night and start building up by Thursday. Wind gusts up to 35 mph could spray snow in open and rural areas. Iowa City has a 65 percent potential for more than 6 inches of snow, with Cedar Rapids at 62 percent. Both locations have 92 percent chances of receiving 2 inches of snow or more.
As a result, Thursday morning commutes could be impacted and evening commutes will likely be impacted. There could be slippery conditions from snow-covered roads, poor visibility from falling and flowing slow, drifting snow in open and rural areas and cold wind chills getting below zero Thursday night.
Drivers should leave extra distance between cars and snow plows, and expect delays as roads are cleared.
The Cedar Rapids streets department is meeting Wednesday morning to strategize its own plan to tackle the winter storm, said streets superintendent Brian McLeod.
As the radar is updated, the team will track when moisture will hit the area in order to coordinate salt spreaders. The 90-plus staffers also will coordinate their shifts on the roads so there’s enough coverage around the storm event.
“Every storm is different, so we have a different plan every time,” he said. “The end result, however, is the same: to get the roads cleared.”
They’ll start with pretreating the main roads, side roads and problematic areas with salt brine into Wednesday night. They also double-check their equipment to make sure it’s all operational with working and visible lights.
“And then, when it starts snowing, we'll be ready to get to action,” McLeod said.
Crews target potholes
The winter elements batter roads, often leaving behind an unpopular reminder on streets: potholes. There can be several hundred scattered throughout the city at any given time that need attention, McLeod said.
“Potholes are a problem, or can be a problem during the wintertime, in all areas of town,” he said. “They don't care where they choose to show up.”
Potholes can gradually bloom with the addition of water. Once moisture creeps underneath pavement through cracks and crevices, it causes a structural weak spot. Over the course of a normal winter, that water will repeatedly expand upon freezing and then thaw as temperatures rise.
“It's our worst enemy when it comes to pavement,” McLeod said about water. “It will rear its ugly face eventually.”
The structural integrity eventually erodes over time into what we know as a pothole.
Potholes can vary in size — and danger. Drivers can drive over smaller ones without noticing, but big ones — those McLeod deems “wheel busters” — can pop up overnight and damage vehicles.
The route to fixing potholes depends on the season. In the winter, they are swept clear and filled with a temporary mixture of loose asphalt. Then, a 3-ton roller or truck packs the materials in. In the summer, hot asphalt serves as a more permanent replacement.
“We try to fill all of them, but we need to prioritize the ones that may cause damage,” McLeod said.
Brittney J. Miller is the Energy & Environment Reporter for The Gazette and a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.
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