County digs out of worst winter storm of the year as March arrives ‘like a lion’

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As a child, many have heard the adage that “If March arrives like a lion, it will leave like a lamb.”

After the worst winter storm of the year hit Switzerland County last week and over the weekend, many residents are looking forward to the lamb getting here.

After heavy rains and warm temperatures came to the county at mid week, forecasters warned of heavy snow beginning on Friday of last week. With clear skies and no snow on the ground, acting superintendent Darin Gullion made the call to be “safe rather than sorry” on Friday, and canceled classes.

Early Friday morning, the announcement brought puzzled looks.

Four hours later, he looked like a genius, as heavy snow pounded the area, causing schools that were in session to scramble in an effort to get their students home before the roads became impassable.

“I think the school needs to be commended,” county highway superintendent Edd Cook said after the storm has passed. “I think they made a wise decision on Friday. It would have been a mess if they’d have gone for a half day.”

As it was, the winter storm hit the county so quickly that businesses shut down early in an attempt to get their workers home. County roads quickly became slick and treacherous, with vehicles sliding off of the roadways.

As the snow fell and predictions reached nearly two feet of accumulation, Edd Cook and the members of the Switzerland County Highway Department put their plan into action.

“We had a regular day with regular hours on Friday,” Edd Cook said. “One crew went back out on Friday night, stayed out all night, and then worked all day on Saturday. That’s a pretty long run for one crew. They really worked hard.”

With snow falling, it did county highway employees little good to go and clear roadways, because they were quickly recovered with new snow. Still, workers put in days in excess of 10 hours on both Saturday and Sunday.

“With no school in session, that made it much easier on us on Friday,” Edd Cook said. “Without having to make sure the kids got home, we pretty much just let it snow until Saturday. We did go out and push some of the breaks, but we didn’t hit it really hard until the snow stopped about 6 p.m. on Saturday night. Then Sunday we really got to work.”

Then the highway department got some help.

“Sunday was when Mother Nature took over,” Edd Cook smiled. “That sunshine on Sunday really helped us.”

Edd Cook also said that many Good Samaritans around the county helped out during the winter storm. He said that Mike Krall of Mount Sterling did some scraping of roads on his own in an effort to help his neighbors and the county – and also helped pull out one of the county trucks that had gotten stuck in the snow.

“People need to understand that our trucks are pretty much just as much at a disadvantage as regular vehicles. If you can’t see where the road is, driving anything is treacherous.”

Forecasters designated the storm as blizzard conditions at different times during the heart of the storm, with visibility reduced to zero and white out conditions hampering cleanup efforts. Edd Cook said that Covington’s Wrecker Service had to be called out five or six times to help pull county trucks out of ditches.

Still, the 20 members of the Switzerland County Highway Department kept going. When heavy storms hit, different members of the highway department are assigned different jobs in an effort to make the entire process more efficient, so a lot of important work was done by county employees who were helping load road trucks and help with other matters as they came up.

And, being March, there were other issues to deal with.

“Like a lot of other counties in this part of the state, the salt was gone,” Edd Cook said. “We were lucky that we had plenty of cinders and sand that we could use, but being late in the season, our salt supply was virtually gone.”

Edd Cook said that counties couldn’t get new shipments of road salt because most of that comes from Louisiana and is shipped to the area on river barges. Since spring was close, there were no scheduled shipments to this area, so new supplies couldn’t arrive quickly enough to help battle the storm.

“But we were lucky with the cinders and the sand,” Edd Cook said. “We get the cinders from Trimble County and the sand from Hilltop Basic Resources, and they really made sure that we had what we needed for the roads.”

With 375 miles of county roads to cover, highway workers got to the roadways as fast as they safely could; and when the warmer temperatures and sunshine came on Sunday afternoon, the snow began to melt. Colder temperatures overnight on Sunday caused school officials to call for a two hour delay on Monday morning until the sun got up, but by Monday afternoon most of the county had returned to normal.

“It takes a lot of hours,” Edd Cook said of the work that his crew did. “A lot of fuel and a lot of resources. Our guys really worked hard to make sure people were safe.”