Small snowfall’s big impact hits schools, early commute

2/23/2013
BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toledoan Augustine Rancatore, 11, carries a big shovel as he walks to homes in South Toledo, selling his services of removing snow and ice from driveways and walks. Most schools were closed Friday.
Toledoan Augustine Rancatore, 11, carries a big shovel as he walks to homes in South Toledo, selling his services of removing snow and ice from driveways and walks. Most schools were closed Friday.

It wasn’t all that much as snowstorms go, just a slushy inch or two with some sleet or freezing rain on top, but according to city and state officials, it fell at just the wrong time Friday to mess up the morning rush hour.

Fog envelops downtown Toledo. After snowfall overnight, temperatures hovered in the low to mid-30s much of the day.
Fog envelops downtown Toledo. After snowfall overnight, temperatures hovered in the low to mid-30s much of the day.

“It was the timing,” said Jen Sorgenfrei, a spokesman for Toledo Mayor Mike Bell. “We had guys [plow drivers] ready to go at 4, but they didn’t have snow to plow until 5:30 or so.”

Jock Williams scrapes ice off of his windshield downtown. A thin but stubborn layer coated many vehicles. But it was the first time in weeks that many local drivers needed to spend much time scraping ice.
Jock Williams scrapes ice off of his windshield downtown. A thin but stubborn layer coated many vehicles. But it was the first time in weeks that many local drivers needed to spend much time scraping ice.

And with just 46 trucks on the streets — the Toledo Division of Streets, Bridges, and Harbor’s full complement without calling in “sister divisions” such as parks and forestry — conditions quickly became slushy even though crews were out there, Ms. Sorgenfrei said.

“It came right at rush hour,” agreed Theresa Pollick, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation district office in Bowling Green.

Brine that had been sprayed on pavement before the storm prevented ice from forming, but the combination of snow, freezing rain, and salt made for a slushy mess that is difficult to clear, Ms. Pollick said. The Bowling Green district’s 100 trucks maintain 3,000 lane-miles in an eight-county area, she added, but did pay special attention to Toledo-area freeways after the snow fell.

The brief snowfall — officially 1.9 inches, as of 5 p.m. at Toledo Express Airport — was enough to prompt most area school districts to cancel classes Friday, many of them for the first time in nearly two years. It also was a factor in widespread, but mostly minor, traffic crashes in the region.

Kevin Miller, superintendent of schools in Ottawa Hills, conceded his decision to hold classes Friday even while all of his neighbors canceled was unpopular with students, but said conditions when he drove around the village before sunrise weren’t dangerous.

“We don’t have buses running on miles and miles of road,” Mr. Miller said, describing village streets as “snow-covered but not slick” when he made the call to keep schools open. He said he received one parental complaint, but also numerous compliments, for that decision.

In Monroe, schools superintendent Randy Monday said he opted not to cancel when weather maps indicated the storm’s worst would arrive after classes started, and that a midday warm-up would mean that roads would be in good condition by the time school let out in the afternoon.

“I had to decide by about 5:15 a.m.,” and the decision to stay open turned out to be the right one, he said, noting that while a half-dozen parents objected, bus drivers reported no significant problems during their morning trips.

Drizzle and freezing drizzle were forecast for the Toledo area overnight, while flurries are likely today before 1 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. Snow showers are possible again early Sunday, after which the local weather is expected to be dry until Monday night.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.