City readies snow plan before flakes fall

November 24, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

City officials readied plans last week to keep key roads open when cold and precipitation turn Issaquah into a winter wonderland — and cover streets in ice and snow.

With less than a month until winter begins, and with snow blanketing higher elevations, officials prepared plans to alert Issaquah residents and deploy plows when weather turns foul. For drivers who need to venture out in snow, officials recommended checking the city radio station, 1700-AM, emergency information phone line — 837-3028 — and a section of the city Web site devoted to winter weather for updates about road and weather conditions.

Meanwhile, when forecasts show snow headed toward Issaquah, crews will ready snowplows to keep key roadways open.

“Once the snow starts falling, we start plowing,” said city Public Works Operations Director Bret Heath, who doubles as the city emergency management director.

If a forecast calls for snowfall to begin during morning or afternoon rush hour, workers stage snowplows on major arteries. Then, crews continue to plow until snow subsides. Crews apply sand sprayed with de-icing fluid to Issaquah roadways.

Public Works Operations teams also have response plans in case snowfall begins during the night or a weekend.

“It’s a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week job when there’s inclement weather out there,” city spokeswoman Autumn Monahan said.

Heath also coordinates snow removal efforts with the Issaquah Police Department, Eastside Fire & Rescue and Sammamish officials, because Issaquah crews maintain important connections to Sammamish.

Issaquah officials also released a map outlining city streets’ priority levels for snow removal. The plan outlines high-priority routes, like Highlands Drive Northeast, Southeast 43rd Way, Northwest Talus Drive, Southeast Issaquah-Fall City Road and Mountain Park Boulevard Southwest. Heath said the snow-removal plan is designed to keep routes open into major hillside neighborhoods.

Before snowflakes fall on Issaquah, residents should check snowplow routes and learn where to go for information when wintry weather clogs roads, Monahan said.

She reminded drivers not to abandon vehicles in a place where they could block traffic. If a driver must abandon a stranded vehicle, but returns to discover the vehicle is not where he or she left it, Monahan suggested calling the nonemergency police line — 837-3200 — to help locate the vehicle. Abandoned vehicles will be towed to keep traffic moving.

Though municipal crews will clear sidewalks near City Hall and other city buildings, owners of the property adjacent to sidewalks are responsible for removing ice and snow.

Forecasting winter weather for Issaquah can be tricky because the city includes three mountains, a couple of valleys and a lake, Heath said.

Winter weather tested the city’s response late last year. Unseasonably cold weather surged into the Puget Sound region in mid-December. Snowfall accompanied the cold snap, but crews were able to keep major city streets open. Despite the length and severity of the December 2008 snow, most city facilities stayed open — with the exception of Julius Boehm Pool — and crews kept roads clear.

Because weather is unpredictable, officials said they prepare for numerous possible outcomes. Last December, for instance, forecasters predicted high wind and snow, along the lines of a severe 2006 storm. But the forecasted windstorm never came to pass.

With regard to weather forecasts, “this is art, this is not science,” Heath said.

Learn more about the city’s winter weather plans, and find snowplow routes at www.ci.issaquah.wa.us/winterweather. Find forecasts and weather warnings at the National Weather Service, www.nws.noaa.gov.

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