Published Tuesday

December 19, 2000 

Snowplows Among Storm's Victims


At least three snowplows were involved in accidents Monday as plow drivers entered their second week of 12-hour days. 

Nebraska Department of Roads and Omaha Public Works officials said crews would continue to work overtime until the roads are clear. Little relief, however, is in sight, forecasters said. 

Another wintry storm, the fourth in a week, is threatening to hit the Midlands on Wednesday. 

"We keep on going," said Matt Boone, a supervisor with the Nebraska Department of Roads in Omaha. "That's just part of the job." 

Although weather forecasters said it was too soon to tell how much snow could fall later this week, the threat of another storm comes on the heels of a storm Monday that dumped up to 7 inches on eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. The winds, in excess of 30 mph, caused problems with blowing snow - and blowing dirt - as well as dangerous wind chills. 

The Nebraska State Patrol said unsafe driving speeds contributed to an accident Monday morning that caused the temporary closure of eastbound Interstate 80 near the Mahoney State Park interchange. 

A semitrailer truck struck a Department of Roads snowplow at 10:30 a.m. Four other semis trying to avoid the accident either left the roadway or crashed into one another. 

A pickup truck also was involved in the accident. 

The State Patrol said one man complaining of back pains was hospitalized. 

A second State Roads Department snowplow was struck on Interstate 80 near 67th Street about 10 a.m. Monday, but Boone said the crash caused only minor injuries and that the plow suffered minor damage. 

While drivers work in 12-hour shifts, Boone said plows are used around the clock. The plow that was struck near Mahoney could no longer spread sand, but it was in use late Monday clearing snow, Boone said. 

A third accident on Nebraska Highway 57 in Cedar County sent one man to the hospital after the semitrailer truck he was driving collided with a snowplow, pushing the plow into two parked cars. 

Boone urged drivers to slow down and to be prepared for the unexpected. 

"Use caution when you see the trucks with the flashing lights," Boone said. "If the lights are flashing, we're working." 

Vince Emmanuel, Omaha street-maintenance supervisor, said that he had not heard of any accidents involving the city's 150 plows but that the fleet had suffered a host of mechanical breakdowns. 

"I wouldn't be able to even guess how many times our trucks have broke down," Emmanuel said. 

Common problems include frozen gas lines, burned-out lights or plows broken after striking manhole covers. The problems have crews that repair the trucks putting in their share of overtime as well. 

"They're working their hearts out," Emmanuel said. "They're trying to get them out as fast as we break them, and they've been doing an ultra-excellent job." 

Blowing snow has forced Omaha's fleet to focus its efforts on clearing and reclearing the city's main roads. Emmanuel said residential areas will see more plows only after the winds die down. 

Omaha city officials asked drivers not to park on major streets or emergency snow routes to help with the plowing effort. Some surrounding communities declared snow emergencies, which ban parking on major routes. 

Boone said the wind is a problem in the closed confines of the city, in which snow drifts build up. Outside the city, however, the wind can be a help. Interstate 80's elevated roadway was built into the wind to help clear drifting snow, Boone said. 

"The blowing snow can be a hassle in one sense," he said, "but it's also a big help for us." 

Trash collections should be caught up by the end of the day today, recyclables by the end of Wednesday. The crews will handle the normal Tuesday pickups today and also will work to get to areas that were missed on Monday because of the storm, said Norm Jackman, an Omaha city engineer. 

Early-afternoon temperatures ranged from the single digits in northern and eastern Nebraska to the low 30s in the Panhandle and southwest Nebraska. But the high winds drove wind chills well below zero in most parts of the state. 

The snowy weather forced the closure Monday of most schools in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. Omaha metro-area public and private schools and many rural districts in eastern Nebraska canceled school for today. 

Bitter wind chills approaching 40 to 50 degrees below zero were expected Monday night, but a slight warmup was forecast for today, according to the National Weather Service. 

Highs today in eastern Nebraska were expected to approach 20 degrees, with lows around 10 degrees tonight. A 20 percent chance of snow was forecast for today. The chance of snow increased to 40 percent for Wednesday, according to the weather service. Temperatures were expected to drop to around zero Wednesday night.