BLOOMINGTON — Roger Sparks of Bloomington knew the chances were slim that he would make it through the winter without having to fire up his snowblower. On Monday morning, he was doing some maintenance on it, prepping for what was expected to be the strongest winter storm so far this season.
"There wasn't any reason why I couldn't have been doing this Saturday when it was warmer out," he said on a day when temperatures struggled to rise above single digits. "It is kind of fun to use it the first time of the season, but after that, it just becomes work."
Residents and snowplow crews throughout McLean County were ready for the first significant storm of the season that ended up dropping about 5 inches of snow in the Twin Cities and causing some difficult driving conditions as the Tuesday morning commute began.
As of 5 a.m., all Twin City area schools were scheduled to be open Tuesday.
Several hours after the snow started late Monday afternoon, area police reported some cars in ditches and minor fender-benders, but no major accidents.
"We are not expecting real strong winds on Tuesday, so once the snow stops accumulating, the plows should have plenty of time to work the roads before the morning commute," said Ed Shimon, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Lincoln. "Winds will pick up later Tuesday, coming from the west northwest, and so by later Tuesday, we could see some drifting and icy spots on the roads."
Bloomington Public Works Director Jim Karch said all of the city's trucks were ready to go. and they were out in force Monday night.
"For a typical event we would have 24 trucks on the road. We have 12 different snow sections with two trucks for each section and one operator in a heavy loader," Karch said.
If the amount of snowfall is as much as 6 inches or more, as predicted, the plows will be on the major roads throughout the night to keep them clear and open, said Karch. By early Tuesday morning the plows should begin clearing the residential streets, he added.
Both Bloomington and Normal banned all on-street parking Monday evening until further notice.
"Once you get on the major roads, you shouldn't have a problem," said Karch. "The problem is going to be getting out of your driveway on those smaller side roads because they won't be able to be done right away."
It typically takes city crews up to 15 hours to clear all of Bloomington's streets of snow, said Karch.
"The city has 800 lane-miles, so there is a lot of pavement and a lot of road for our crews to clear, said Karch.
For every mile of a two-way street, there are two lane-miles (a mile in each direction). "And some major streets can have up three, four or up to five lanes and every one of those lanes has to be plowed, so we look at in terms of lane miles," he explained.
Normal and McLean County also had their plows out Monday night and ready with plenty of salt — although officials said that if snow is very dry, salt can make matters worse.
“A snow that’s dry tends to blow,” said Wayne Aldrich, Normal public works director. “If we salt, it can make the pavement wet, causing the snow to stick and making matters worse.”
Aldrich said crews will keep an eye on the roads and if there is a slick spot, they will use salt.
Eric Schmitt, McLean County highway engineer, said his crews likely won’t salt until Thursday — if the weather prediction for a dry snow and strong winds Tuesday and Wednesday hold true.
“Especially with light, fine snow; that stuff will just blow and blow,” Schmitt said.
The challenge with the first major snowfall each year is motorists acclimating to driving safely in winter conditions.
"People always have a tough time stopping soon enough at an intersection or not getting up earlier enough to shovel or plow out their driveways," said Karch. "Then they get in a hurry to get to work and because of that they don't drive for conditions. They drive too close to our snowplows and don't drive safely."
Because of that, Karch urged motorists to allot more time to get their destinations Tuesday.
"We are very thankful that the snow hasn't really been hitting us hard this year," Karch added. "Last year was one of the biggest years (for winter storms) we've had in recent memory. So it's nice to be able to start off the year at a slower pace."
The city spread about 300 tons of salt on its major streets over the weekend because of icy road conditions, "but we're in great shape salt-wise," Karch said. "We had a full dome and we just put a new order in, so it shouldn't be a problem."