City prepares winter plan

December 9, 2008

By Jim Feehan

Preparing for winter in the Northwest is a crapshoot at best. Some years, the winters are mild and uneventful, while others (such as two years ago) include

 ferocious windstorms and snow. 

As a result of the December 2006 windstorm, the city purchased a generator for City Hall. During a storm and subsequent power outage, the plan is to use City Hall as an emergency warming center. 

New this year, city workers will apply a deicing compound on streets, said Doug Alder, city spokesman.

“The trick with the deicer is that it has to be applied before the roads are wet,” he said. “So, we monitor the weather report and apply it before it gets wet. If it has already snowed, the deicing won’t help”

The Public Works Department recently updated its snow and ice priority route map. Streets in Newcastle have been assigned numbers, from one to four. Because some weather events may prevent crews from keeping roads at the preferred level of service, in many cases crews will focus on main arterials and then turn their focus to the remaining priority routes. Once the priority routes are clear, side roads may then receive attention, Alder said.

“Our main focus is Coal Creek Parkway and Newcastle Way and we’ll branch out from there,” Alder said. “Certainly, the major roads will be cleared first. And if it’s snowing heavily, crews may have to come back again.”

Also new this year, the city has a plow to place on its maintenance trucks. In the past, the city relied on utility crews from Coal Creek Utility District for snow removal, Alder said.

“We’ll have crews working ’round the clock to clear the streets,” he said.

For many Newcastle residents, the winter of 2006-07 will not be soon be forgotten. A one-two punch of heavy rains and gale force winds left thousands of Newcastle residents without power as trees toppled transmission lines during a record-setting storm Dec. 14-15. The city was plunged into darkness as bone-chilling temperatures followed the storm.

Fallen trees and downed power lines shut down roads, leading to circuitous detours and long delays. High winds toppled a large cottonwood, blocking Coal Creek Parkway, near the Newcastle-Renton border. Downed power lines in other parts of the city created hazards. Power was restored to most of Newcastle by Christmas Eve that year.

The following month, the city was hit with a crippling snowstorm that caused a slippery commute, snarling rush-hour traffic. Motorists sledded on streets transformed into ice rinks by snow. Dozens of abandoned vehicles littered Coal Creek Parkway and other streets.

Lessons learned from the storm helped city officials better prepare for winters to come, Alder said.

“This year, obviously with the generator, we have tons of food and supplies for the warming center,” he said. “We’re good on that end. We’re totally prepared.”

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