‘Running out of room’

Rising snow banks creating challenges for residents, city workers

Photo by Jenny Kirk Homeowner Mark Wittrock is all bundled up as he heads back out to blow snow again on Monday in Marshall, which has had 15 inches of snow in the last 10 days.

MARSHALL — Marshall resident Mark Wittrock has been getting his money’s worth out of a new Ariens snowblower this month as the snowfall total for February rose to more than 15 inches on Monday. But like so many others in the Marshall community, the homeowner is already sick of snow removal this year.

“It’s getting as bad as it was seven years ago, where it’s snowing or blowing every day,” Wittrock said. “I have 142 feet of sidewalk to take care of, and every time the wind blows, the snow is almost level and I have to start all over again. It’s been snowing right and left and it’s been so cold that it never melts, so this (fluffy) stuff will keep blowing around.”

City of Marshall employees have had their hands full with snow removal as well.

“It’s been challenging to say the least,” Marshall Director of Public Works Glenn Olson said. “We have at least 90 miles of streets in town, plus the alleys.”

For the past two weeks especially, city workers and residents in the community have had to work together to try and keep up with the tough winter conditions. Throughout the city, the snowy white piles are getting higher and higher.

“The streets of Marshall are getting smaller and the intersections are getting harder to see because the plows can’t get the snow up and over the banks any higher,” Wittrock said. “They’re running out of room to push it up any higher. The banks are too high, so at some point, the city will probably come by and start cutting them down. Then they’ll use the snowblower to blow the snow back up.”

Olson said 15 full-time employees pitch in to help with the aftermath of storms. Private individuals are also hired to help with hauling snow and for snow removal of parking lots and locations in town.

“We’ve needed lots of help from other departments that are associated with the outdoors and from private individuals as well,” Olson said. “There’s a significant amount of additional overtime that’s being spent on it.”

Along with the nine individuals from the street department, Olson said they’re getting assistance from two people in the engineering department, two from waste water and two from the building department. He also credits Marshall Community Services and the parks department for clearing the parks and trails.

“Most (of the 15) drivers start at 4 a.m., but some start even earlier to get things going,” Olson said. “Then they usually go until they’re done with their routes. At a minimum, they’re working till noon. Lately, most are working 15 hours or more to get their work done. We don’t like them to work more than 12 hours because it’s tiring and unsafe, especially with heavy equipment.”

While it’s not ideal, people need to travel.

“We don’t want them to be unsafe,” Olson said. “Sometimes it takes a little longer, so we ask for everyone’s patience. We’re trying our best.”

Olson noted that the top priority is to clear highly-used streets for emergencies. After that, the city workers focus on the downtown area and the emergency snow routes, which are highlighted by signs. The residential neighborhoods are next.

“We do everything we can, but if there are some locations that are bad and people want to give us a heads up, they can call us at (507) 537-6778,” he said. “The banks on the boulevards are getting high and it’s difficult to see, so we do ask for assistance with that and in keeping the driveway intersections clean.”

Olson added that the city employees appreciate it when people move their cars off the street after it snows as well.

“When we do get a snowfall and we’re going to remove the snow, please move the vehicles off the streets as much as possible,” Olson said. “We’re reminding people to keep an eye on the fire hydrants, too. It’s important to have those clear of snow in case there would happen to be a fire.”

Another reminder regarding snow removal is that people are not allowed to blow snow onto the streets or any city properties.

“Any snow people remove from their sidewalks or driveways cannot be placed on city property,” Olson said, “Do not put it in the park across the street or on the street itself. We’ve had quite a bit of that going on, so make sure when you’re removing snow, you put it back on your own property.”

Wittrock and his wife, Brenda, live at the intersection of South First Street and Southview Drive. While he understands that it typically can’t be helped, he said snowplows oftentimes push clumps of snow around the corner and leave a big mess for him to clean up.

“I’ll go to work, get home and then think, ‘I better go clean out the end of the driveway,'” Wittrock said.

So far, Wittrock is pleased with his new snowblower, which is 16 horsepower and has a 32-inch wide cut.

“As a homeowner in Marshall with a winter like this, you pretty much have to have a snowblower,” Wittrock said. “My old one was 22 years old and it was 13 horsepower with a 42-inch cut. This one is not as big as my old one, but it does the job even better.”

Wittrock said the blizzard last week helped blow some of the snow off the roof, but he’s still concerned that there could be issues down the road if it continues to snow.

“When you get to the point where you have to rake the roof, we’ve had enough snow,” he said. “I’ll be getting my roof rake out soon and pulling the snow off. It’s a lot of work, but if it starts to melt, then the ice can get under the shingles and cause issues, too.”

Wittrock said he’s optimistic that the Marshall area will miss out on the heavy snowfall being forecast in the Midwest.

“We’re supposed to get 1-3 inches (Monday),” he said. “I hope this other system keeps going east.”

The National Weather Service out of the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, office is forecasting that the heavier snowfall will skirt more to the east and southeast of Marshall than previously predicted.

“The system impacting us (Monday) and (today) is tracking further east, so the snowfall amounts for southwest Minnesota have been trending downward,” Meteorologist Jen Hacker said.

According to Hacker, however, visibility is likely to cause issues in some areas today.

“On the backside of the latest system, we have strong winds developing (Tuesday),” Hacker said. With that, any of the light, fluffy snow that falls (Monday) will have a good chance of blowing around, mostly in the open areas. Though it’s nothing like last week, the winds are expected to be between 20 and 30 miles per hour.”

Wednesday could be another calm before the storm type day as snow is predicted again on Thursday.

“There’s a system on Thursday that could produce some light snow,” Hacker said. “It’s up in the air yet, but there’s definitely a potential for snow Thursday and Thursday night.”

Hacker confirmed that the Marshall area had 15 inches of snow that fell in February. The season total for Marshall is 38.1 inches so far. Though it could warm up enough to produce rain instead of snow, Hacker said there’s a good chance for above-average precipitation into May.

“In general terms overall, the next three months will be above normal for precipitation,” she said. Narrow bands will develop, though, so it could be a matter of 30 miles one way or the other. It’ll impact a very small area.”

For residents in the area, it might be best to just take it one day at a time.

“We’re expecting more snow (today), so we’re reminding people to help out,” Olson said. “It’s nice to help out your neighbor, too. If their sidewalk isn’t done, it’s sure nice to do a little extra if you can.”