Clearing a path: City crews attack snowy streets as a team

Jefferson City snowplow driver Brandon Stegeman follows another plow as they work in teams to clear city streets. The city’s goal is to make a pass every 45-60 minutes on their routes.

Jefferson City snowplow driver Brandon Stegeman follows another plow as they work in teams to clear city streets. The city’s goal is to make a pass every 45-60 minutes on their routes. Photo by Kris Hilgedick.

Even as snowplow crews worked furiously all day to remove snow from Jefferson City’s streets, their efforts weren’t enough to contend with the mass of flakes that fell throughout Tuesday afternoon.

Minutes after snowplow driver Brandon Stegeman cruised down McCarty Street at a fast clip, he pivoted his truck around to complete the task again. Already, the roadway was shrouded by an opaque layer of white. It looked as if a blade had hardly touched it.

“Crazy how that happens, isn’t it?” he remarked.

Stegeman, 25, a senior street worker for Jefferson City, noted the city’s goal for snow routes like McCarty are one pass every 45 minutes to an hour.

Stegeman said it’s important to skim off the snow in layers as if falls.

“If we wait four to five hours, we’d never get our trucks through here,” he said. “It would take a road grader to plow.”

Assigned to the eastern end of the city, Stegeman’s route starts at Haaf Street and extends west to Chestnut Street. He plows almost everything north of McCarty Street toward the river, with the help of other workers. A larger tandem truck also clears the main snow routes, and a pickup truck with a plow maneuvers through the city’s tightest streets.

Stegeman said it helps to work in teams because they can clear wider swaths in less time. Occasionally, they rendezvous with one another to talk, pick up the radio and even chat on their personal cellphones. When he sees another driver, he gives a friendly salute.

“We all work together,” he said.

Cars weren’t the only vehicles out there Tuesday, sliding their way down the city’s hills. As he headed up a hill at the end of the eastern terminus of Capitol Avenue, Stegeman’s tires spun in place, hunting for traction. At other times, he slid down hills.

He said distracted drivers don’t always use the best sense. At one point, he had just barely navigated his way up a hill, only to see an SUV driver attempt the same thing. Because the car had pulled in front of the plow, Stegeman was forced to slow down.

“They think they can beat you,” he said as he shook his head.

A typical driver’s knuckles would be white, but Stegeman was unaffected.

“It ain’t too bad. We just get a little sideways,” he shrugged. “You get used to it.”

Stegeman said workers try to keep the worst spots cleared of snow so that multiple cars don’t wreck in the same place and create a bottleneck. “We try to keep them as clear as we can so you can at least get around (a stalled car) and not wreck,” he said.

But he said the best thing drivers can do in the midst of a snowstorm is to stay off the streets. He said it’s better to wait until the snow stops falling, and workers have had a chance to hit the streets, than panic and head out the door as the storm is hitting.

“Stay off the roads. That’s the main thing,” he advised.

Occasionally, the street department is called to clear a particular stretch of road for the police, fire or ambulance crews. But that doesn’t happen too often, he said, because the emergency crews either have chains on their vehicles or they have equipment of their own they can use to clear snow.

“Now if we have an 18-inch snow, then that calls for a different response,” Stegeman noted.

The ultimate goal Tuesday evening — once the snowfall ended — was to clear the streets and then apply salt and calcium chloride where needed. The chemicals — which are expensive — are used sparingly by the plow drivers, who hold off using them except in situations where hills create safety concerns.

Driving snow plows is one of the more dangerous aspects of Stegeman’s job. Although he didn’t appear worried as he cruised at a fast clip through the city, he said he does worry about hitting residents’ cars, mailboxes, curbs, trash cans, etc.

“Eventually, at some point, you’re going to hit something,” he said.

Weather-related:

Local forecast, radar, advisories (Alternatively here)

MoDOT Traveler Information Map

Jefferson City street conditions

School closings and weather-related announcements for Feb. 5, 2014 (Alternatively here)

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