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Digging out When road crews can't keep up, it's time for the tow trucks.



Published: Thu, February 20, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



VINDICATOR STAFF REPORT

YOUNGSTOWN -- It was the perfect time to crawl under a blanket in front of the TV or curl up with a good book.

That's because outside, Monday's snow at times fell faster than Ohio Department of Transportation crews could move it off roads. "Nobody could keep up with that," said Frank Strahin, an ODOT supervisor for Mahoning County.

Strahin said 20 of the 21 trucks ODOT uses for Mahoning County were on the road Monday. Interstates 80, 76 and 680 were each covered at all times by three salt/plow trucks; state Route 11 was covered at all times by two trucks.

Strahin said ODOT focuses on removing snow from the three interstates first, then from Route 11. State Route 7 and U.S. Route 224 come next, followed by state Routes 45, 46 and 534.

"We've been on it round the clock," he said. ODOT drivers worked 12-hour shifts during the storm, Strahin said.

The snowiest season on record was 1950-51 when 85.3 inches fell, according to the National Weather Service at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport. The 1992-93 season comes in second, with 82.5 inches. The snowiest February was in 1967, when 22.7 inches fell. Through Monday, 65.2 inches of snow had fallen in the Valley for the 2002-03 season.

Deep snow changes plowing strategy, said Joseph Mastropietro, Youngstown street department superintendent. City crews used curb-to-curb and tandem plowing on the main routes. Curb-to-curb means starting plowing in the middle of a road and pushing the snow out toward the curbs. Tandem means one plow following another.

Crews will resume salting streets once all the main roads are plowed, he said. They stopped when the snow started falling faster than the salt could melt it, he said.

The city had all of its 15 plows on the streets Sunday and Monday. The city has available those plows and 30 drivers, meaning a minimum of 10 plows per shift. Drivers willing to work overtime and a few others in the department with commercial licenses drive the other five plows. Even an assistant maintenance clerk was behind a blade.

The inability of snowplows to keep up made way for some to make money.

Lots of business

By 10 a.m. Mike Glover, a tow truck driver for Crump's Towing, had been on the job several hours averaging more than three service calls per hour. Most of the service calls were for "winch-outs" -- people stuck in snow embankments and in need of a tow trunk to pull them to safety.

Jasma Grace, 20, of Youngstown was exiting I-680 at the South Avenue off ramp about 10:30 a.m. when her Pontiac Grand Am slid sideways and stuck in a snow bank. After lying virtually face down in the snow, Glover located the car's axle and winched the vehicle back onto the road.

"I love my job. I honestly do because I love to help people," he said. "If I didn't like helping people, I would be gone."

Rich Hale, owner of Summit Supply Co. in Niles, had a crew working all day, shoveling and blowing snow at the McKinley Memorial in Niles. Hale said it usually takes six to seven hours to get rid of the snow because heavy equipment can't be used on the front marble walkway that is 35 feet wide and nearly 200 feet long.

USA Taxi and Service and Miller's USA Taxi and Service in Warren were busy, but not at the high pace one might expect.

"It balances out," said Carl Miller, a cab driver whose wife, Rose, owns both companies. He explained that although some new customers called for rides because they didn't want to drive their own vehicles in the snow, regular customers decided to stay home.

Snow emergency

Greenville, Pa., Mayor Clifford Harriger declared a snow emergency, the first time he's had to do so since 1996. Harriger said the street department needs time to get the snow off the streets, and the snow emergency bans parking on all city streets until the emergency is lifted.

Police and fire dispatchers throughout Columbiana County reported few problems, largely thanks to the school holiday and the fact that anyone who could avoid venturing out stayed indoors.

"Most residents have the presence of mind to stay home," said Salem Police Sgt. John Petrachkoff.

Trumbull County 911 officials and troopers at the Southington Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol said they were surprised they didn't get more vehicle crash reports. They got several calls of cars' sliding off the road, but few reports of injuries.

Jim Schultz, owner of Schultz Towing of Warren, said calls for service ran through most of the night and started up again about 6:30 a.m. Monday. The business uses three trucks. "It's mostly people get stuck in the snow or people who can't get in their cars," he said.

Jeff Moody of Jeff's Auto Repair and Towing of Bristolville had received six calls by midmorning. That compares with only one or two by the same time most mornings.




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