May 20 • 11:45 AM

That was then, this is now

From record snowfall to record high temperature all in a week's time

Dave Jewell, a member of Imlay City’s Church of the Nazarene, plows through heavy snow last week to provide easier access for churchgoers. Snowfall in the Tri-City area ranged from 12-16 inches, beginning on New Year’s Eve. photo by Tom Wearing.

January 09, 2008
TRI-CITY AREA — When snow falls at the rate it did on New Year's Eve, road crews find themselves challenged to keep roads and highways clear for safe passage.

Such was the case late Monday, Dec. 31 and well into Tuesday, Jan. 1 when 12-14 inches fell across the area over an eight-hour period.

In Capac, a reported 16 inches of snow hit the ground, making the village and its environs the hardest hit in the entire Metro-Detroit area.

Capac Village Manager Dennis Collison said the village's response to the storm was complicated by a mechanical failure with one of the DPW's snow removal vehicles.

"Our biggest problem was that our main truck broke down," said Collison. "We had to hire some (independent) guys to help us out."

With the assistance, workers were able to collect the bulk of the snow and transport it to the village's lagoon system off Hill Street, where it was dumped.

Collison said the DPW's priority quickly changed to making sure that the village's drains were clear in anticipation of the snow's melting, as temperatures rose into the 50s by Monday, Jan. 7.

"We had to make sure our catch basins were open for when all of this snow melted," said Collison. "For the most part, we got through this pretty well. Our residents helped by staying out of the way during the removal."

By mid-afternoon on Monday, temperatures had risen to a high of 62 degrees, a new record for the date in the Tri-City area. The previous record for Jan. 7 was 57 degrees in 1989. photo by Tom Wearing.
Because the snow fell and accumulated so quickly, county road crews had a difficult time keeping up.

"We were as ready as we could have been," said Rick Pearson of the Lapeer County Road Commission. "We were surprised at the amount that fell. But once you have 10 inches on the ground, another six or seven doesn't make that much difference."

Pearson said the county's full complement of nine road graders and 17 trucks were dispatched beginning at 9:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 31, and worked through 5 p.m. on New Year's day. After a brief respite, crews returned Wednesday to clear the residual snow from the roads.

"We're responsible for 1,500 miles of roadway in this county," said Pearson, "so it was a challenge. But the guys did a great job."

The Herculean effort included the disbursement of about 850 tons of salt, added Pearson. He said an ample supply of road salt remains should the coming months produce similar storms.

"We've got about 12,000 tons of salt," said Pearson. "Our winter maintenance is the most expensive part of our operation. In the summer, people will wonder where the money went."

Pearson asked for the public's consideration when they perform independent plowing at their homes.

"We continue to have an issue with some people who are plowing across driveways," he said. "It creates problems for us and poses a hazard for others."

Road crews weren't the only people facing tough challenges during the big storm.

Paul Sheffer, owner of Paul's Collision in Almont, said he had little to eat and no sleep during the 18-hour period that began around 4 a.m. on New Year's Day.

Sheffer said he personally responded to more than 40 calls in his 4-wheel drive wrecker, while some calls had to be outsourced to other services.

"It was pretty crazy," said Sheffer. "I worked non-stop. All I had was a granola bar and a Coke from early that morning until about 10 p.m. on New Year's Day.

"It was mostly people who had gotten stuck off the road. I tried to get to each of them based on their proximity to one another. There were some people we just couldn't get to. But we did the best we could."

Law enforcement agencies in Lapeer County were overwhelmed with 911 calls from motorists who had slid off the roads and highways. Lapeer County Sheriff Ron Kalanquin said it didn't help that the storm hit on a holiday.

"We had given some of our more senior officers time off," said Kalanquin, "so we were pretty busy.

"We had a lot of cars in ditches," he said. "We did our best to keep up until the road crews could get the snow off the roads."

The 16-inch total reported in Capac was the fourth-highest snowfall on record in southern Michigan. On Dec. 1-2, 1974, a total of 19.3 inches of snow fell in the region.

Seven day difference

What a difference a week makes.

It was only seven days ago that local residents were digging out from beneath 12-16 inches of snow that fell over a 24-hour period beginning on New Year's Eve.

By Monday, however, record high temperatures had melted much of the heavy snowfall, leaving mud puddles and mini-lakes behind for residents to plod and wade through.

The National Weather Service in White Lake reported that temperatures rose to 62 degrees on Monday, five degrees higher than the previous record of 57 degrees set in 1989.

The sudden warm-up resulted in dense fog much of Sunday, making conditions treacherous for motorists traversing area back roads, where visibility was minimal.

Local police departments reported no fog related crashes.

While the rapid snow melt caused fears that flooding could occur, area communities experienced few problems.

In Almont, wastewater treatment plant supervisor Mark Farley said sewage flow levels were only slightly above normal as the snow melted.

In Capac, where 16 inches of snow was reported to have fallen by New Year's Day, Village Manager Dennis Collison said conditions were essentially back to normal on Monday.

"We really haven't had any problems," said Collison. "Our sewers are all draining well. To my knowledge, there has been no flooding."

Imlay City Manager Amy Planck said the city has also not experienced flooding due to the snow melt.

"I think our $4 million drain project must be working," said Planck on Tuesday morning. "I think it hadn't been that cold and the ground wasn't frozen, so the water was absorbed quickly."

The weather took yet another turn on Monday evening, when the National Weather Service issued tornado watches up until 9 p.m. for Lapeer and St. Clair counties.

The same front included rain showers, with thunder and lightning on Monday night and continued rain on Tuesday. As a result, a flood watch was issued for much of the area on Tuesday.

In a return to relative normalcy, temperatures were expected to dip back into the mid-30s today, with more seasonal temperatures and a chance of snow showers likely for the rest of the week.

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