A snowy struggle: Tough conditions have made this winter more difficult than most
BEMIDJI—A perfect storm of heavy snowfall and below average temperatures has produced a challenging winter for public works agencies.
Since October, 71 inches of snow has fallen in the Bemidji area, with the majority of it coming last month, with 29.1 inches in February. Not only has winter weather kept plows on the streets, it's also led to more hauling operations than normal.
"This has probably been our most challenging winter in the last 10 years," Bemidji Public Works Director Craig Gray said. "It's mainly been because of the number of snowfall events and the number of hours we've worked. We're hauling and clearing a lot more snow than we've done in the past."
Across the state, snowfall records for February have been broken, and National Weather Service Hydrologist Amanda Lee said the freezing cold days have driven snow piles higher.
"Our temperatures have been well below what's normal since the beginning of 2019," Lee said. "There hasn't been any chance for melting at all, so it just keeps piling up. We've also been very active, it's felt like snowfall after snowfall for the last six to eight weeks."
The growing snow piles have also kept the state transportation department busy, according to Bill Pirkl, a maintenance operations engineer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
"We're getting complaints about the snow being so high that it's cutting down visibility on the roads," Pirkl said. "So, we're hauling snow at night, pretty much every week. We've probably had this much snow before at this time, but without the melting days, we haven't lowered that amount."
With all the snow, Gray said operations have taken place around the clock, with hauling efforts now taking place on the sides of streets.
"We've had guys working a regular day shift, then from 2 a.m. to noon the next day," Gray said. "Right now we're running out of space on the roads. We have enough space for hauling and storage, but we're running out of space on the boulevards and the banks are getting high. When we haven't been plowing, we've been trying to load and haul from those areas."
Looking ahead, Lee said the area is likely to remain cold, but thermometers should be rising somewhat in the coming weeks.
"Through mid-March, we're still looking at below normal temperatures," Lee said. "We are getting later in the year, though, so our temperatures will continue to get higher."
Once the temperatures do rise consistently, Gray said the next point of concern for the department are storm sewers.
"With snow like this, when we get those 38 to 40 degree days, we're going to have some intersections with water and some standing water on the streets, because the storm sewers aren't going to be thawed out yet in many areas," Gray said. "That's typical for spring, but we certainly realize it will occur and we will have more of those areas to deal with than in past years."