Last year’s snow frames Charlotte’s winter plans

The five days of snow removal practice being conducted this week by Charlotte’s street crews aren’t the only preparations to keep the city moving during storms this winter season.

Some of the important planning is taking place in meeting rooms, as officials try to make the most of lessons they learned last February.

The region was hit by a three-day storm that produced nearly 10 inches of snow Feb. 11-13. Heavy snow fell on the afternoon of Feb. 12, producing icy conditions on outbound East Independence Boulevard and creating a mess that trapped hundreds of motorists for several hours.

“That happened at an area where we didn’t have access,” Charlotte streets superintendent Saleem Khattak said Tuesday. He said the N.C. Department of Transportation had trucks out, “but they couldn’t reach that spot.”

City and state officials met afterward and now will have a truck ready to move into action at the first sign of trouble on that part of Independence Boulevard.

Khattak and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Emergency Management planner Michael Tobin said another lesson from that storm is the need to work closely with the business community. A number of businesses sent workers home when the snow started, contributing to the city’s traffic problems.

“Every business has different needs, different hours,” Tobin said. “The key is communication. We need to let them know what we know.”

Khattak said city officials also will make more of an emphasis this year of having businesses use delayed openings in the morning when streets are bad.

“We want to be able to have a few hours to get roads in good shape before we put all the traffic out there,” he said.

Otherwise, local authorities said they are ready – as ready as can be – for a winter that meteorologists say could be harsh in the Southeast. Nearly all forecasters are predicting a wet and cool winter, with the Charlotte area frequently on the border line between rain, freezing rain and snow.

Khattak said the city has 5,000 tons of salt, a full supply, and can produce salt brine at a rate of 15,000 gallons in 90 minutes. Salt brine is applied to roads in advance of winter storms, as it helps prevent ice from forming on street surfaces.

The city’s plan is the same as in past years: Crews will start by working on main roads, then move to major connecting routes. Residential streets are not part of the snow-clearing plan. Most other towns and cities in the Charlotte region follow the same plan.

And officials will urge residents to use mass transit when the weather turns bad.

“There are times when we have to suspend operations, too, but we try to keep running as long as possible,” said Krystel Green of Charlotte Area Transit System. “We know we have a responsibility to help people get where they need to go. If the weather turns bad, we want people to know they can ride with us.”