No one thing created that mess.
Even the readiest road crew can’t control the timing of the snow, and we had two morning-commute dumps of the white stuff this week.
The second, on Wednesday, was over fast, and city and state road crews got on it quickly. They were extra prepared because the first, on Monday, had been a disaster—worthy of the overused title of “perfect storm,” because three conditions came together to keep the snow from being removed.
First, road crew staff numbers were down. “We had an outbreak of COVID in Morgantown on Friday—of our 30 people in Morgantown, we have 10 out with COVID right now,” says state Department of Highways District 4 Acting Manager Mike Cronin. District 4 clears the state roads and most of the county roads in and around Morgantown.
The city had the same problem. “We have seven people out with COVID right now,” says Morgantown Public Works Director Alexandra Stockdale.
Second, the storm didn’t follow the forecast at all. City road crews were expecting snow and worked through the night Sunday and into Monday but, by morning, had encountered only mild weather and saw just a 15 percent chance of snow ahead, Stockdale says. So at 6:30 a.m., they let them go. “No sooner had those guys gotten home than it started to just dump snow.”
And the snow was mischievous. “It was the way the storms hit,” Cronin says. “They hit real small, and we’d clear it, and then it would hit again. We had five different small storms hit on Monday.”
And third, to top it off: “Usually our day shift would have been coming on right at 6 a.m.,” Stockdale says. “But it was MLK Day, so they were off. And at that point, we still didn’t see snow coming, so we didn’t call them to come in.” By the time the unexpected snow was hitting and they did call them in, it was too late: A lot of the road crew live down the roads that most quickly become challenging when it does snow—Kingwood Pike, Snake Hill, Summer School Road—and there were already wrecks everywhere blocking their way in, Stockdale says.
After Monday morning’s debacle, both Cronin and Stockdale scheduled their road crews to the fullest extent available for Wednesday morning’s snow.
A snowy commute is frustrating. But when you find yourself getting mad about snow removal this winter, think about this: Shift workers often marry shift workers—a lot of Morgantown’s road crew are married to nurses, Stockdale notes. During COVID, nurses’ jobs come first, daycares are often closed, and road crew spouses become the stay-at-home caretakers. Chalk delayed snow removal up to the pandemic, and give ’em a very gentle brake.