CORNELIUS/DAVIDSON — It was all hands on deck when it came to cleaning up after Winter Storm Pax, which hit the Lake Norman area Feb. 12-13.
With schools, businesses and government offices limiting hours or shutting down completely to keep residents safe, no major incidents were reported. But emergency crews and town public works employees worked around-the-clock to clear roads and maintain service.
Though storms like Pax are rare in the South, Davidson Public Works and Project Manager Doug Wright and Cornelius Town Manager Anthony Roberts said they do their best to prepare for inclement weather.
Wright said he and his eight-member crew met daily prior to the storm to have a plan of action.
“We typically get through winter, but this year that has not been enough,” Wright said of the 60 tons of salt the town keeps on-hand for freezing temperatures. “We had a lot more snow than we typically get.”
He added there is a shortage of salt throughout the state. In their respective towns, Cornelius and Davidson staff worked to clear major roads first, before doing smaller connector streets and finally side residential roads.
From Wednesday to Friday, Wright said staff stayed overnight to cover 90 percent of town roads using their four plows, snow blowers and Bobcat machinery. Wright said their knowledge and experience of potentially dangerous areas as well as their good equipment helped maintain overall safety.
Cornelius has an additional secret weapon — a motor grader used to cut through ice.
Roberts said they used reserves of salt and slag on some of the major roads prior to the snow starting, but made good use of the equipment.
“The snow plow truck bounces and pushes the top layer off, but it won’t cut ice,” Roberts said.
Though N.C. Department of Transportation is in charge of all state roads, Roberts said the public works department had to help because they were delayed and overburdened. The town helped finish off state roads, including West Catawba Avenue, N.C. 115 and U.S. 21.
But like Davidson, they had to prioritize.
“We just couldn’t do it all,” Roberts said. “Especially roads that sloped downhill, we may not be able to get back up. We had to prioritize main roads and then the feeder neighborhoods.”
All seven Cornelius staff members helped for more than 10 hours each day, with Roberts joining them on the plow Feb. 14 to spread the work. Overall, including the state roads and going both ways on town roads, Roberts said the staff covered at least 250 miles of streets.
Also working overtime were emergency crews.
Cornelius Fire Chief Jim Barbee said overall they didn’t have any major events, though staffing was up from four people to seven with additional volunteers on call. Barbee said they had to pull out one of the Mecklenburg County paramedic trucks, but otherwise, nothing of note. With so many people inside, roads were quiet.
Davidson reported three minor snow-related wrecks, but the usual run of medical calls and false alarms didn’t stop. They responded to 18 medical calls, seven good intent calls, five false alarms and two hazardous condition calls with no fire.
Davidson Captain Dion Burleson said for 48 hours during peak times, they doubled personnel to six. While none of the calls were life-threatening, there were a couple times that the fire department needed the rescuing.
Burleson said they put chains on the ladder truck tires and engine 1 has automatic chains. But Burleson said they only work for 4-inches in snow.
“Obviously, we had more than that which led to the difficulties,” he said. “We have a partnership with the Davidson Police Department and they have a 4-wheeler which was instrumental in getting people awaiting medical attention.”
According to the fire department reports, the fire trucks got stuck twice, plus nearly all of the calls had extended travel times because of the difficulties navigating through the snow.
“Overall, we did a very good job handling it,” Burleson said. “Most people heeded the warnings to stay inside, but fire alarms and medical emergencies don’t take a break.”
Wright and Roberts said in the future they hope to have a better reserve of salt available. Roberts added that he’d like Cornelius to form a partnership with another town, such as Huntersville, to offer salt storage in lieu of going to NCDOT or Charlotte for reserves.
Wright added he hopes to improve ways to clear sidewalks to allow businesses to open sooner.
Otherwise, it’s more difficult to prepare for snowstorms like this one.
“We don’t get a lot of snow around here,” Roberts said. “Having 10 snow plows would be a waste of taxpayer dollars. Some years they won’t get used at all. We use two snow plows that come off the front of the truck.”
Wright has a sentiment many residents seem to be feeling.
“I hope we are good with no snow for the rest of the winter,” he said, with a chuckle.