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Now Comes The Ice

by Thomas MacMIllan & Paul Bass | Feb 5, 2014 12:56 pm

(6) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Transportation

Thomas MacMillan Photo As the city cleans up mounds of sodden snow, the head of emergency operations warned of the danger ahead: It will all turn to ice.

Rick Fontana, the emergency operations chief, voiced the ice warning at an 11 a.m. storm briefing in the city’s underground emergency operations center on Orange Street.

He said the temperature was predicted to drop below freezing at 10 p.m. Wednesday, and not rise above freezing until next Tuesday.

Acting Chief Administrative Officer Jennifer Pugh estimated that the city got six or seven inches of snow overnight, compressed by rain Wednesday morning.

The snow fell as part of Winter Storm Nika, one of a number of storms that have hit town recently—with one more predicted this weekend.

And Nika’s not over yet. Fontana (pictured) announced that the forecast called for light rain Wednesday, followed by a couple hours of light snow starting at 5 p.m.

The problems will begin after the mercury plummets, Fontana predicted. “This is all going to be ice over the next several days.”

“Everything will be ice after 10 p.m.,” he said.

Public works chief Doug Arndt said most streets in the city have seen at least on pass of the plow. He said his workers are putting “product” on the streets to keep the ice at bay.

Other updates from the briefing:

• The city will have a parking ban downtown between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. During that time, parking will also be forbidden on posted snow routes and on the odd-numbered side of all streets. Traffic tsar Doug Hausladen said he’ll have towing companies lined up to clear parked cars from downtown. The city will also enforce the parking ban elsewhere, he said. “Don’t be the odd car on the block.”

• People can park overnight at the Temple and Crown street parking garages for $3 between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. Parking will be free at the Granite Square parking garage.

• The city had 165 calls to 911 overnight, which is “relatively normal,” Fontana said. Police received eight reports of motor vehicle accidents and eight reports of disabled vehicles.

• Despite predictions, Nika did not cause trees and branches to topple under the weight of heavy snow. “We have had no calls for limbs down,” said parks department deputy chief Christy Hass. United Illuminating had been prepared for 5,000 to 10,000 power outages throughout its network. The city had none.

• Police Chief Dean Esserman said “officers are all at work” and prepared for “when the roads freeze up.”

• Assistant Fire Chief Ralph Black said firefighters put out a small fire on Whalley Avenue overnight.

• The Livable City Initiative received only one no-heat complaint overnight.

• Flights from Tweed Airport were canceled through noon.

• Chief Black warned that people should be aware of snow piling up on flat roofs, especially with another storm on the way.

An earlier version of this story follows:

Emergency Budget Almost Gone

Paul Bass Photo Officials planned for morning and evening rush-hour messes and a “natural pruning” of falling tree branches Wednesday—and sought to replenish disappearing emergency clean-up money—as the second of two expected winter storms barreled toward New Haven.

Forecasters expect the snow to dump as little as 2-3 inches or as many as 7 in New Haven—and perhaps far more in some suburbs.

The storm’s timing and potential volatile mix of wind and heavy rain-soaked snow had officials concerned as they gathered for a 3 p.m. meeting at the Emergency Operations Center below the 200 Orange St. city government building.

The storm is expected to begin after midnight. It’s expected to turn heavy just as morning rush hour begins, according to emergency operations chief Rick Fontana. As many as three inches could fall per hour. Not only that: Winds could kick up to 20 miles per hour, creating blinding conditions.

“it’s going to be extremely hazardous—very thick, heavy, wet snow,” Fontana said.

With temperatures flirting with the freezing point throughout the day, either rain or snow will continue to fall, forecasters predict. Fontana said to expect “a little break” after lunch, with just rain falling—then a new blast of heavy snow falling again just as afternoon rush hour gets underway at 4 p.m.

The city’s calling in private contractors again to supplement its fleet of plows. The city needs the back-up because it doesn’t have enough plows, and those it has are older models, according to acting Chief Administrative Officer Jennifer Pugh (pictured leading Tuesday’s emergency planning session).

As of the end of Monday’s storm, the city had spent $286,274 out of $300,000 budgeted this year for sand and salt as well as outside plowing contracts.

“We anticipated we were going to have to” hire outside contractors, Pugh said. “We didn’t anticipate having to do it three times in a week.” A third storm is projected to hit New Haven Sunday and Monday.

Pugh said her department has submitted a request to transfer $200,000 in unused public works money (from unfilled positions) to buttress the account. That money will get the city through “at least the next couple of storms,” she said. “Hopefully the storms will stop coming”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Pugh urged department heads to keep detailed records on overtime spending during the storms—in part to keep costs under control, in part to qualify for potential federal reimbursements in the event of big storms.

The city has $73,000 left in its regular $218,000 budget for overtime staff snow-plowing this fiscal year, according to Pugh.

During Tuesday afternoon’s meeting, United Illuminating Energy Engineer reported that the utility expects 10,000 customers to lose power in Wednesday’s storms. She declined afterwards to identify where those expected outages are expected.

Also at the meeting, deputy parks chief Christy Hass described plans to clear snow at city parks facilities Wednesday and to back up city crews at other locations.

Hass said she has assigned a truck stationed at the east end and the west end of town to tackle expecting falling tree limbs. Trees already have lots of wet snow on them from Monday’s storm, she noted. “We can have a lot of natural pruning going on” Wednesday, she said.

Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries said education officials will decide during a 7 p.m. conversation Tuesday whether to close schools Wednesday. A closing appeared likely.

Downtown and neighborhood parking bans, if enacted, probably would not take effect until Wednesday evening.

Acting social services chief Ron Manning said he expects homeless shelters to have enough beds available to meet the overnight need.

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posted by: Dean Moriarty on February 5, 2014  1:08am

“We didn’t anticipate having to do it three times in a week.”

Hmmm…New England. Early February.  Yeah, nobody would have expected that.

“The city’s calling in private contractors again to supplement its fleet of plows. The city needs the back-up because it doesn’t have enough plows, and those it has are older models”

I’m not expecting an answer you understand, but it sure makes one wonder where 6K a year in taxes are going to, if not for this type of expenditure.  (And I know, there are a lot more homeowners paying more than me, but that figure is enough for me to question where it goes).

posted by: robn on February 5, 2014  11:24am

After the first two snowstorms with while Harp boosters were breaking out the bubbly, I asked whether this was the result of new methodology or just lucky because of feather light dry snow. A third reason I hadn’t contemplated is that Mayor H ordered gold plated plowing resources to avoid embarrassment and inadvertently blew the budget before our 4th storm. Well here we are.

posted by: anonymous on February 5, 2014  1:18pm

Robn, that’s a great question, and I had the same thought after seeing plow after plow scouring streets that were perfectly fine. 

But how would one find out the answer? Without information on the location and routes of all plows, and contractor receipts, transparently available on the city website - like what other cities do - it’s pure speculation. 

Anyhow, it’s a great example of how transparency could make our city more efficient and less corrupt, but the jury’s probably out until that happens.

posted by: astrophyzz on February 5, 2014  1:26pm

Is “He said the temperature was predicted to drop below freezing at 10 p.m. Wednesday, and not rise above freezing until Tuesday.” a typo, or do they really mean it won’t be above freezing before next Tuesday? My instinct (and sincere hope) is that it was meant to say Thursday.

[Editor: Actually, he meant NEXT Tuesday! We’ll make that clear. Thanks. And stay warm.]

posted by: TheMadcap on February 5, 2014  1:37pm

Dean,

-3 significant snow storms in one week is in fact highly unusual.

-Everything elder the city does, like the more than 50% of the budget that goes to education.

posted by: robn on February 5, 2014  9:21pm

ANONYMOUS,
The answer is in this article…
“As of the end of Monday’s storm, the city had spent $286,274 out of $300,000 budgeted this year for sand and salt as well as outside plowing contracts.”
We spent @100K for each of the three storms previous to this one. Sounds a bit steep to me.

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