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Road crews again gear up to fight weather

Road crews again gear up to fight weather

'Hazardous travel can be expected due to slippery conditions'
Road crews again gear up to fight weather
The flow of the Mohawk River at Lock 9 in Rotterdam remains tame with a normal flow Thursday.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

CAPITAL REGION — Don't let recent warm weather fool you. An abrupt drop in temperature and hazardous driving conditions lie ahead.

There's a flood watch across all of eastern New York from midnight Thursday through 1 p.m. Saturday, but there is also a very good possibility of icy road conditions on Saturday.

"Hazardous travel can be expected due to slippery conditions," the National Weather Service office in Albany cautioned Thursday evening. "In addition, rapidly falling temperatures on Saturday will lead to a flash freeze, causing any standing water to freeze in place."

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"It's kind of a double-whammy," said Saratoga County Public Works Commissioner Keith Manz, who noted that county road crews have had to respond to numerous storms, wind-drifted snow and other weather events since Christmas.

"Our crews are ready, and we'll have coverage," said state Department of Transportation Region One spokesman Bryan Viggiani. "It's going to make things tricky, but we're up to the challenge."

He said that, during a major storm, the DOT shifts to 24-hour coverage, during which truck operators work 12-hour shifts until roads are clear. Region One has 184 plow/salt trucks ready to go, 480 workers and 41,000 tons of salt on hand, he said — but he added that it's too soon to know what the storm will cost the state, or whether this stormy winter will be more costly than a typical year.

"We've had a few relatively mild winters in the Capital Region in the past few years, but it's really too early to tell what kind of winter this is going to be," he said. "It's too soon to predict, as far as costs and what it totals up to. We're responsible to taxpayers, but safety is our top priority."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday warned that large parts of the state face both the prospect of flooding due to warm temperatures and rain on Thursday and Friday and hazardous driving conditions from freezing rain as temperatures drop overnight Friday, with a return of Arctic cold by Sunday.

"This unusual change in temperature can be dangerous this time of year, as ice on roads and in waterways melts, and in order to ensure the safety of residents and travelers, I have directed state resources to be ready in advance for whatever Mother Nature brings our way," Cuomo said in a prepared statement.

With the Mohawk River a frequent flooding risk, especially for Schenectady's historic Stockade neighborhood, county officials will be watching it closely Friday and are making sure first responders know what's happening and are ready.

"Our public works department is preparing as they always would," said county spokesman Joe McQueen. "Because of the possibility of flooding, they are out clearing culverts and basins to make sure they are as clear as possible."

Manz said Saratoga County's 23 plow trucks will be putting down an initial salt layer in the early hours of Friday morning, salting pavement that remains below-freezing despite the warmer air temperature -- and crews may be in for more than 36 hours of work. The county's topography means pavement in northern Saratoga County can be significantly colder than in the more-populated southern part of the county, which influences when salt is applied to melt snow and ice.

"This is going to be one of our more expensive events, because it's going to be longer duration and it has all three kinds of precipitation: rain, sleet and snow," Manz said.

Still, he said it was too soon to know whether the county's $1.3 million annual snow removal budget will fall short. The biggest storm expense, he said, is for salt, followed by overtime and fuel. But there's also a cost in terms of employee morale and fatigue, he noted.

"Some winters, if we have a lot of events, [crews] can work 16 hours consecutive, and then have eight hours off — but if you do that enough, they can get really fatigued by the end of the season," Manz said.

State police don't anticipate any travel restrictions for Saturday, but they are advising drivers to use good judgment in deciding whether to drive.

"I know it's a dynamic weather pattern that could go either way," said Troop G spokesman Mark Cepiel. "Just use your best judgement as its happening, and then if it turns to ice, travel only if absolutely necessary."

The sun is expected to return on Sunday, but don't count on wamth. The high temperatures in Schenectady and Saratoga Springs aren't expected to make it to 20 and are expected to drop below zero Sunday night.

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, swilliams@dailygazette.net or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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