Winter Storm Jonas challenges Black Mountain’s crews

Fred McCormick

Winter Storm Jonas and its double-digit snowfall may have meant sledding and snowball fights for some Valley residents. But it also meant 12-hour shifts for employees at Black Mountain’s public services department who worked around the clock to maintain the town’s streets.

“When a snow event comes, we have the town split into six zones,” departmental director Jamey Matthews said. “There is a person pushing snow in each zone, but there are also specific vehicles for specific zones.”

Employees began plowing town roads on Thursday, Jan. 21. They continued to work through the following Sunday. Along the way, they encountered several obstacles.

“A problem we have when we have a significant snow event like this is people getting out and driving,” Matthews said. “They get out in cars with two-wheel drive and get stuck in the middle of the road. And that keeps us from plowing that road.

“When you get a lot of snow in a short amount of time, you end up losing the road. And what I mean by that is, the further behind you get on plowing that road, the harder the snow is to push.”

Plowing the snow is hard on the town’s heavy equipment, Matthews said. Other incidents impacted the town’s vehicles as well, he said.

“We had someone out on North Fork (Road) crack one of the windshields on one of our trucks with a snowball,” he said. “So we had to file an insurance claim on it and had to have a police report filled out. All of that slows down the process.”

(Matthews said that he encourages his employees to not ride with the windows down at night because, in the past, employees have been hit with snowballs while driving.)

Repairing a busted water line in nearly a foot of snow was another hurdle that public service crews did not anticipate during the extensive planning prior to the storm, Matthews said.

The road with the broken line was not one that is maintained by the state or the town. It hadn’t been scraped, and the snow on it was some 10- to 12-inches thick, Matthews said.

“We couldn’t get a vehicle in there,” he said, “so we had to take a four-wheel-drive backhoe down there and walk the tools and the new line down there.”

A snow event like Winter Storm Jonas creates one of the busiest times possible for public services employees, who bring snacks and drinks to keep on their trucks so they can clear the roads nonstop.

“We don’t go home,” Matthews said. “We are working 24 hours around the clock until the event is over.”

After the storm passed, the crews continued to work on Black Mountain’s streets - and, for the first time, on parking in the downtown business district as well.

“We went downtown to clean up the snow to try to help the merchants get back open. That’s something I wanted to try to do this winter,” Matthews said. “We actually took backhoes and dump trucks and hauled (the snow) out.”

Even with an extraordinary amount of planning, nature generally provides the most effective relief after these kinds of storms.

“We can only do so much on our end. You can only push so much snow,” Matthews said. “When the temperature is low enough and you repeatedly drive over it, that bottom layer just turns to ice. Your plow will just ride right over the top of it.

“That’s why sunshine is our best friend.”