OWATONNA — All week long the talk throughout the Midwest has been the surprisingly early first snowfall of the season, predicted to dump up to 12 inches in some areas.
Breathe easy. The October storm is being considered to be “potentially historic” over the Northern Plains, but Owatonna is suspected to be in the clear.
According to the National Weather Service, there is a slight chance of snow before noon on Saturday in Owatonna and an equally low chance of snow during the day on Sunday. There is a 50% chance of a snow and rain mixture throughout Saturday afternoon, but little to no snow accumulation is expected.
While this news is plenty to make Owatonnans rejoice, it is an especially welcomed forecast by the City Streets Department.
“Unfortunately with the business we’re in, we have so much hot-mix work to do in the final season of street works that it usually ends up being around the first of November before we really can start focusing on the snow removal,” said Scott Overland, the streets maintenance supervisor for the City of Owatonna. “We have probably two weeks left of hot-mix work.”
In Owatonna, the Streets Department uses the same trucks and big pieces of equipment year round. In the summer and fall they are used to patching roads with a hot-mix and in the winter they are used for sanding roads and removing snow.
As of Thursday, the department has only completely transitioned one vehicle to be prepared for when the snow comes. Overland isn’t too concerned, however, because he knows that this weekend the plows and sanders likely will not be needed.
“We can actually put everything on in a short period of time if our forecast was to shift,” Overland explained. “If we were to have some sort of freak storm like other areas will be having this week, in one day we could put the stuff on quickly.”
In a normal season, though, Overland said that the department will take about a solid week in preparing the trucks for snow removal and spreading sand. He stated that this allows the trucks to be fully cleaned for their transition from summer patch work to snow season.
“At this point we’re still using [the trucks] for blacktop. They can only do one or the other,” Overland said. “If the situation arises that we all of a sudden had an unusual storm coming through we would be able to make adjustments and be able to get the stuff on.”
“We have to be very flexible in what we do,” he continued.
Luckily, the crew Overland works with in the summer is the same crew that handles snow removal throughout the winter months. Overland said that they also pull some people from the Parks and Recreation Department as well as Wastewater and city mechanics. As they transition the trucks, Overland said they will also run a refresher course for the personnel.
“They’re all really knowledgeable and dedicated,” Overland said. “They want to do the best they can for the public and what we do is difficult, but they are very good at it.”
The snow removal crew members are often recipients of praise during the winter months, specifically last winter when there was a record snowfall for the month of February. While Overland was still working in Albert Lea at the time, City Engineer Kyle Skov stated that Owatonna couldn’t have had a better group of people on the roads.
“We just have a really dedicated, well-trained crew that does a good job for the residents,” Skov said. “Last year we had quite a lot of snowfall, so we have our fingers cross for a milder winter like I am sure everyone else does, too.”
Overland stepped into the maintenance supervisor position in June when the previous person retired. He has a couple decades’ worth of experience with all things related to street maintenance, especially climbing into a snow plow.
“Dealing with traffic is probably the hardest part of the job,” Overland said about snow removal. “We need the cars to give us room and if a car pulls behind you in an intersection it can be hard for us to see them.”
He added that the difference in weather lately has also been difficult, stating that he feels there is a lot more snow/ice/rain mixtures than there used to be. Not to mention, of course, that the work starts at an incredibly early time of the morning when most of the city is still sleeping.
“Nobody likes getting up early,” Overland laughed. “But the crew knows it’s part of their job and since they know that I think they just get used to it.”
While Overland is extremely confident that Owatonna is safe from experiencing any type of significant snowfall this weekend, he is definitely keeping his fingers crossed that it won’t be as wet as the National Weather Service is saying it will be. According to them, the chance of rain is high throughout all of Friday and Saturday.
“We just really need two good solid weeks of working days,” Overland said about the remaining patchwork that needs to be completed on the streets. “Then it will be time to transition for snow.”