Department of Public Works Primed for Snow
The short version of how the City of Hyattsville fights snow.
A small gleam of silver caught the man's eye as he cut back the snowplow to the corner of a mound of snow during a snowstorm last winter.
The man — a city worker — stopped his truck, walked to the side, hand dug where he saw the silvery light and quickly discovered that the gleam of silver was actually an antenna, which was attached to a sporty Mazda Miata buried under three feet of snow, according to Hyattsville's Director of Public Works Patrick J. Ryan.
"If he hadn't have seen the gleam, he would have gouged out the side of the vehicle and probably done damage to the plow," he said. "People need to think about where they park. If you have a high-value vehicle or one that can easily be covered by snow, you probably want to think about parking in another area — off street."
The winter of 2009-10 was one of the region's snowiest on record, and it taxed public works' departments in cities and towns across Maryland. Homes lost power, schools, governments and businesses were shut down, and yes, cars were abandoned and sometimes buried under mountains of snow.
Will this winter's snowfall rival that of snowpocalypse or snowmageddon? The answer lies in the tea leaves, er, snowflakes. Actually, the woolly caterpillars are most likely to know — about the snow.
In the meantime, Hyattsville Patch caught up with Ryan early this morning, before the snow started to fall, to talk snow — snow removal to be exact.
"[Our] snow-fighting effort is to make streets safe and passable. The main concern is that emergency vehicles can make it through," Ryan said.
And how exactly do Ryan and his staff fight snow? Like any public works crusader would: with a fleet of cool and snow-worthy equipment, including five one-ton and one three-quarter-ton pickup trucks — each equipped with a salt spreader and one with a V-plow — three large dump trucks with spreaders and snowplows, as well as snow blowers, shovels and spreaders used by the sidewalk crews.
The crews are trying to use low-impact salt substitutes in the spreaders, Ryan said.
"We're also looking into new methods, such as a beet juice derivative. It's more environmental friendly, and it tends to have a longer sticking time," he added.
Ryan said he relies on his street supervisor to assist in monitoring intersections and drivability of the roads.
"Most of the preparation for any possible snowstorm also occurs following the last snow watch," he said."Each morning, before a vehicle leaves the yard we've got an extensive check-off list where driver does a walk around to make sure all warning systems and control plow and spreaders systems are all operational."
And if it's a storm that's expected during the day, he said, the supervisor assigns his work crews the tasks. Then they continually monitor until the storm starts.
"For storms expected outside normal hours, we set up and coordinate work crews to arrive approximately one and a half to two hours prior to the predicted start of the storm," Ryan said.
He added that the unpredictable nature of storms requires some "give and take … monitoring the situation with the police department."
Ryan said that major streets are addressed first, followed by the secondary streets, and then the workers clear parking lots, alleys and bus shelters.
"We try to make every road to have at least one passable lane in a very heavy storm," Ryan said.
How can you help? Well, Ryan suggests some tips for Hyattsville residents to use during the winter season.
- If you have a driveway, use it. Try to keep your vehicle off the street when possible.
- When clearing your driveway or sidewalk, put the snow on your property and not back into the street.
- If it's a significant snowfall, please remember that the DPW will be continuously plowing snow into the right of way that may contain your driveway or apron. After a heavy snow, you may have to shovel more than once.
- Be patient. Snowplows focus on making a passable lane on the city's streets and then push back toward the curbs and clear those of snow.