Rain, snow and ice make travel treacherous
A series of weather events going back to the rain, sleet and snow that fell on Wednesday of last week combined to make driving hazardous in the Hudson-area and beyond.
The temperature dropped into the single digits and below zero after the precipitation stopped on Thursday, making for icy roads and numerous accidents.
The commute to work and back has remained treacherous for Hudson-area drivers as county and city plow operators struggle with a cycle of melting and freezing on highways and streets.
“We’ve had a ton of them,” St. Croix County Sheriff John Shilts said when asked about the number of accidents over the past week.
From Sunday through Thursday of last week (Dec. 1-5) the sheriff’s department responded to 33 reportable accidents, plus twice as many or more incidents of vehicles sliding off the road.
“We had that freezing rain and snow mix, and then cold temperatures hit, and that stuff just stuck,” the sheriff explained. ”We haven’t gotten out of that sub-zero weather long enough to get the roads back to where we like them.”
Jim Krizan, patrol superintendent for the St. Croix Highway Department, echoed the sheriff’s assessment of the situation.
The salt and chloride the county trucks put on the highways is only effective to about 10 degrees F, Krizan said.
“We encountered quite a bit of freezing rain before it turned over to what little snow we did get out of that last Wednesday-Thursday event,” he said. “Then the temperature started dropping, freezing the roads.”
To add to the problem, strong winds caused drifting, and the ice that the salt did melt refroze when the temperature dropped below zero at night.
Then Sunday evening, another inch or two of snow fell on the already icy highways and streets.
“It was treacherous,” Hudson Public Works Director Tom Zeuli said of the Monday morning commute.
“I tell everybody to slow down and increase your distance between you and the vehicle in front,” Zeuli said. “And you have to really slow down when you come to an intersection, because it might be slippery.”
One of the city’s main plow trucks was knocked out of commission last week when a vehicle slid through a stop sign and hit the truck’s hydraulic system. The parts to repair the truck aren’t expected to arrive until next week, meaning the plow will be out of action for two or three weeks.
Hudson Police Chief Marty Jensen said there were a number of accidents in the city during last week’s rain and snowstorm, and another seven over the weekend.
“A lot of them are intersection related. As the temperature starts to drop, intersections get slick and vehicles go sliding through,” Jensen said.
Overpasses and highway ramps also are among the first places to get slippery, leading to accidents, he said.
During last week’s freezing rain, there were two or three rear-end collisions on the 11th Street overpass of I-94, according to the police chief.
“Just slow down. Take your time -- especially on the bridge decks and on-ramps,” Jensen advised.
Zeuli said the city has added to the percentage of a product called GeoMelt that it sprays on the salt before applying it to streets. The GeoMelt, made from beet juice, increases the melting ability of the salt.
Both the city and county plow trucks have pre-wetting systems that spray chloride on the salt before it is spread on the roads. The liquid activates the salt and keeps it from blowing off the road.
Zeuli said the city also spread a few truckloads of a salt-sand mix. He said he doesn’t like to use sand, because it has to be cleaned up in the spring, but the recent conditions warranted it.
Krizan of the county highway department said he has noticed an increase in the number of freezing rain events in recent years, and suggested that it might be because of global warming.
“I’d rather have a 12-inch blizzard than deal with this type of weather,” Krizan said. “We go through a lot of material. And when you’re going through a lot of material, you’re going through a lot of man and machine hours.”
It makes it costly to get roads back into good winter driving condition, he said.