At close of day Thursday, employees at Ellis County Public Works were heading home, as ready as could be for the rain and snow being predicted by the National Weather Service to start thisevening.
“We’re in good shape,” said Public Works Director Bill Ring Sr. “I was back there just a bit ago posting the weather. As they punch out they can see the forecast and it’s a quick reminder to them to bring their warm clothes and snow gear tomorrow.”
Don Stejskal, superintendent over the service division in the City of Hays Public Works Department, was also eyeing the forecast, which had been changing all day.
“Every storm is different, it’s hard to plan for it,” Stejskal said. “Basically we’re monitoring the forecast, and that tells us what we’re going to be doing, if they’re right.”
City of Hays has six large dump trucks with snow-plow attachments, and 11 employees who operate them and two mechanics to fix them. Ellis County has six dump trucks and 15 road graders, with 13 of those stationed around the county so they are quickly put into service. The Road and Bridge Department has 41 employees, including four mechanics.
With rain predicted to disappear by 2 p.m., City of Hays crews were out Friday morning pretreating the roads designated an Emergency Snow Route with brine, a mix of water and rock salt sprayed on the pavement. The brine dries and prevents snow from bonding to the surface.
Normally city workers spray about 8,000 gallons of the brine on the city’s snow routes in advance of a predicted winter snowstorm.
"We want to get that material down and if it does start snowing heavily we want to try and keep it liquid,” Stejskal said. "There's a chance of freezing drizzle at 9:30."
The saltwater mix is only effective from zero to freezing, 32 degrees Fahrenheit, Ring said, when it can keep the road from getting slick.
“Once it gets too cold, it’s not effective,” Ring said. “If it’s five below, it’s pointless to put it down.”
If there is snow, Stejskal and Ring were both planning for sand trucks and snow plows.
At both the city and county shop yards, plans were in motion for crews to arrive at 8 a.m. Friday and start hooking up plow blades and sand sprayers to dump trucks.
“When we have a storm like this coming in, we have everything ready to go,” Ring said.
For spraying sand, a big aluminum box is fitted into the back of a dump truck, where it’s strapped down and filled with sand. An electric motor runs a fan wheel on the bottom that slings the sand, with controls that set how little or how much. A blade is attached to the front of the truck.
“They can go out on the road and if they need to plow, they lower the blade, or if they want to spread sand, they do that,” he said.
Both paved and rock roads can be sanded, Ring said, noting “we can run a spreader truck up and down and put some sand on it so it doesn’t slide so much.”
Once rain turns to snow, Stejskal said his crews can put down brine on the city’s streets designated as an Emergency Snow Route.
“We’ll start treating the streets with the brine as it’s snowing to keep up with it,” he said. The city’s two applicator trucks can cover the streets in about five hours. Eventually, though, the snow will become snow-packed from all the traffic in town. And once snow starts building up, the plows come out. After that, sand and salt might be sprayed.
“We just keep going round and round and round until the storm lets up and we get caught up,” Stejskal said.
At a recent briefing to the Hays City Commission, Assistant City Manager Jacob Woods reported that the city has spent $20,000 on overtime and equipment operation for the three snow events that have occurred so far this winter season.
On Thursday afternoon, Stejskal was hoping Friday's storm would stay west of Hays, but admitted “we don’t have an inside track” on the weather.
Ring also was quick to say it was anyone’s guess what will happen Friday evening.
“I don’t know,” Ring said. “That’s up to the big guy upstairs.”
Updated at 10:23 a.m. Friday, Jan. 11 to reflect new information from the City of Hays.