By Pat Maurer
With one of the coldest, snowiest winters in recent years not over yet, Ron Bushong, Manager of the Clare County Road Commission, is worrying about what March will bring to the area.
The forecast for the immediate future is grim.
The National Weather Service in Grand Rapids is predicting more of the bitter cold temperatures and possibly up to four more inches of snow in the coming days.
Their prediction through this weekend calls for below zero wind chills ranging from a record low Thursday night predicted at -19 and real temperature of -13, and snow showers and continued cold Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The daytime highs range from 10 to 18 degrees and nighttime lows range from 2 degrees above zero to 13 degrees below.
The predictions for snow are complicated by windy conditions, with gusts up to 30 mph on Thursday dropping to 5 to 10 mph for Friday. The warmest day predicted will be Tuesday when the thermometer climbs to 18 degrees above zero.
With more blowing drifting snow predicted, this means the County road crews may be working extra hours again in the coming week. “CCRC has already spent $105,000 more in overtime wages for the period from mid-Nov 2013 to mid Feb 2014 as compared to our 5 year average for the same time period,” Bushong said Wednesday.
Not only manpower but materials will affect this year’s budget he said. “We have consumed more than 6,000 additional gallons of diesel fuel as compared to the five-year average for the same winter maintenance period, at an additional cost of approximately $20,000.”
With the increased snowfall and slippery, icy road conditions since winter began, salt supplies have also taken a hard hit this season. “We took delivery of 130 percent of our State and County salt and have so far used 1335 more tons of our State salt and 444 more tons of our County salt than the five-year average, ” he said, adding that State salt is paid for by MDOT. “County salt comes from our operating budget and has already exceeded over $16,000 more than our five-year average County salt expenditure.”
“Added costs for winter snow removal operations this year will correspondingly reduce the amount of money left available for Spring/Summer/Fall maintenance and construction activities, “Bushong added.
The County Road Commission also maintains State roads in the area. Bushong said, “With regards to our MDOT State Maintenance Contract, we have already used 86 percent of our State Winter Maintenance Budget… and still face possibly another month or so of winter.”
He said the figures he listed for overtime and materials do not include the most recent storms. “Due to snow events that have occurred since that information was compiled on February 20, we have experienced additional overtime, materials, repairs and fuel expenses during the past week as well,” he said.
The National Weather Service warned, “Bitterly cold weather will continue to late week as temperatures average twenty to thirty degrees below normal.” They continued, “A clipper with an Arctic front moves through Friday night bringing some snow…accumulations to be an inch or two…We will have to watch for cyclogenesis along the Arctic front as it stalls across the southern plains and picks up Gulf moisture on Sunday…but the synoptic setup suggests snow will have to overcome north or northeast flow of dry Arctic Air across Michigan and we could end up just dry and cold Sunday through Tuesday.”
Accu-Weather, though less accurate with their forecasts, predicts more cold temperatures in the area through most of March with the thermometer only edging up into the 30s during the last few days of the month.
The most accurate winter forecast this year came from predictions made in the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which said, “According to the newest edition of North America’s oldest continuously published periodical, a decline in solar activity combined with ocean-atmosphere patterns in the Pacific and Atlantic will result in below-normal temperatures and above-normal snowfall during most of the winter across much of the United States.”
“This winter is shaping up to be a rough one,” according to an on-line quote by Janice Stillman, editor of The Old Farmer’s Almanac. “Sweaters and snow shovels should be unpacked early and kept close by throughout the season. The good news is that the extra precipitation—which will fall as rain or snow depending where you are—will help with any drought issues left over from the summer.”