FORT WAYNE – It was a pitched battle at times, but city officials believe they won the war to reclaim the roads from the latest winter storm.
Wednesday afternoon, city of Fort Wayne officials said the main thoroughfares in town had been cleared and salted, crews had moved to secondary streets, and they expected to be clearing residential streets by nightfall.
Public Works spokesman Frank Suarez said the overnight shift kept up with the snowfall until about 4 a.m. Wednesday. Then, the heavy snow turned into incredibly heavy snow and winds whipped it sideways, creating whiteouts at times.
From 4 to about 7:30, it really pounded us, Suarez said. The drivers were telling us they’d go down one side of the street, and by the time they came back, it was almost covered again.
The National Weather Service reported that in the six hours before 7 a.m., five inches of snow fell at Fort Wayne International Airport. By Wednesday afternoon, when the skies cleared, a total of 9.6 inches had fallen there.
Other areas saw even more: the National Weather Service reported that areas of Kosciusko County recorded up to 13 inches of new snow.
A little more than two-thirds of the way through the winter, Fort Wayne International has already recorded more snow than is seen in an entire normal winter. Through 1 p.m. Wednesday, Fort Wayne has received 52.2 inches of snow for the season, double the average of 26.2 inches.
The most snow ever recorded in one winter in Fort Wayne was the 61.1 inches that fell in 1981-82.
Residential streets are especially bad because snow and ice that was already there melted into a slushy mess over the weekend, then froze solid. Now it’s a rutted, bumpy sheet of ice with 9 inches of snow on top.
To combat that, when crews plow residential streets, they planned to spread sand mixed with beet juice – the sand will give drivers traction until the beet juice can melt the ice.
Normally, Fort Wayne doesn’t use sand because it clogs storm sewers when it’s eventually washed off the street by melting snow or rain.
The supplier ground this (sand) up before mixing it with the beet juice so it’s a little finer, Suarez said. And in a case like this, we needed to do something.
The city also usually does not salt residential streets except for intersections and hills, but this time it plans to treat everything.
The beet juice is among the alternative street treatments the city is adopting in the face of heavy use of salt and skyrocketing demand. Before this storm, crew had already used 18,000 tons of salt worth $1.1 million.
Earlier in the week, the city got salt from its usual supplier, and Wednesday it got another shipment from a new supplier in Texas. Residents may notice the salt and sprays are different colors than usual.
In rural areas, travel remained treacherous Wednesday. Allen County extended its winter travel advisory, saying drivers should be aware of blowing and drifting snow, especially along east-west roads, and that some areas may still be impassable. If travel is necessary, officials said, they urged drivers to go slowly and have emergency supplies in their vehicles, along with a cell phone.
Wednesday afternoon, all the other counties in northeast Indiana except Adams and Kosciusko counties were at a Level Orange, meaning conditions are unsafe and only essential travel is recommended. Adams and Kosciusko were at Level Red, the highest warning level, meaning travel could be restricted to emergency management workers only.