Winter storm response: Over 30 hours & counting

Public Works crews working double shifts to clear streets

COVINGTON, Ky. – Every driver and piece of equipment available ...

As snowflakes continued to fall this morning on the second day of a particularly problematic winter storm, leaders at Covington’s Public Works Department said they will continue to throw everything they have toward the mission of clearing roads and making them safe to travel.

The City’s two Snow & Ice teams have been working overlapping double shifts since 5 a.m. Thursday, with drivers going home for a few hours of sleep, and then heading back to work.

Some who live far away and couldn’t get home because of closed interstates even slept in their trucks or the Public Works’ “barn.”

“We’ve been going at it for over 30 hours’ straight now, and we’ll keep going until it’s finished,” said Parks & Facilities Division supervisor Brad Schwenke, one of those directing the effort.

As of this morning, Covington had used 543 tons of road salt and – at peak times – had as many as 30 trucks out plowing and spreading that salt.

“The streets aren’t what I would call ‘beautiful,’ but we’re definitely getting there,” Public Works Director Chris Warneford said this morning after driving around Covington and assessing street and road conditions.

“Obviously some of the side streets still need some work and our hills in South Covington will need constant attention, but we’re getting to those areas as fast as we can,” Warneford said. “The crews are doing a great job.”

The storm – which started with rain that transitioned to sleet and finally snow – caused an array of challenges.

The rain kept crews from pre-treating the roads, which means they couldn’t get a jump on keeping the main thoroughfares cleared. Then the sleet lingered many hours longer than expected, not changing to snow until about 4 a.m. Friday, Schwenke said.

And finally, the dropping temperatures are limiting the melting ability of the road salt, “although if we get any sun or clear skies today at all, that will help,” he said. Tonight, much of what is melted will refreeze.

But Covington did benefit from a quirk of geography and meteorological unevenness that caused the city to escape – for the most part – the heavy ice that blanketed everything to the south and north, snapping trees and pulling down powerlines.

“We dodged a bullet – we didn’t get that ‘shiny’ ice,” said Troy McCain, another “snow commander” who is supervisor of the General Maintenance Division.

Meanwhile, a few snippets that give a feel for the storm-response effort:


Schwenke – who drew the short straw when the City’s communication manager escorted a TV reporter and a camera around Public Works – mic’d up to tell viewers about navigating plow-equipped trucks along the City’s narrow streets. “It’s stressful,” he said.


A black-and-white photo of a dented car damaged by a plow. “We backed into one car. It was raining, the driver could barely see, and his mirrors were icing over,” Schwenke said.


An unnamed salt truck operator’s response to an inquiry: “Tired and hungry.”


A supervisor explaining his red-rimmed eyes: “I worked 20 to 21 hours straight, took me 40 minutes to get home, got about six hours sleep, and was back at 8 a.m.”


Another driver, talking about food last evening: “The drive-thru was supposed to close at 11, I got to the window at 10:50 and they wouldn’t take my order. I was like, ‘ah, man!!!’ … and just went on to Kroger and bought a bunch of stuff to throw in my truck.”


Schwenke, explaining the preciseness of the “543 tons” answer: “(Backhoe operator) Lonnie (Johnson) has been doing this so long, he’s got it down to a science. He knows the weight of each bucket and everything.”


Warneford, after seeing a jogger on Madison Avenue near 15th Street this morning: “When they’re using the street as a sidewalk, when you see a runner out there, you know you’re doing something right.”

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