By BROOKE SNAVELY
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY
Call it perfect timing or horrible timing, a huge storm is blowing in as Thanksgiving approaches.
Fifteen to 20 inches of snow is forecast here on Santiam Pass alone and ODOT is ready. In fact, they are already out there taking care of the roads but you still have to be very careful.
I rode maybe 10 minutes with ODOT plow operator Harry Lolkema before we encountered a collision that was blocking traffic.
Plow operators help drivers involved in accidents by notifying police, medical personnel and tow crews so they know where to respond and what to expect upon arrival. They place flares to alert oncoming traffic to the hazard ahead. And they will spread traction sand immediately around the accident scene so that other vehicles don’t lose control or get stuck and make matters worse.
“Yesterday, after dark, it got pretty crowded and we started having troubles up here. A couple of trucks spun out. A few wrecks,” Lolkema said. “So we just said, too much trouble, so we switched the signs to condition C and that’s where we’ve been since last night.”
Condition C, “Chains Required” – the bane of motorists who just want to get there. When chain requirements are posted it means vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds and any vehicles towing trailers must use chains.
Cars and light trucks with traction devices such as studded tires or winter traction tires with the mountain snowflake symbol on the sidewall may proceed.
Commercial chain installers will do the job for you, for a fee.
“It’s amazing how many people want our help until they find out what it costs,” said Kyle Kernicki, a chain installer on Santiam Pass. “We aren’t paid by the state. We earn money collecting our fees. And so they’ll say ‘yeah, we want help. $25! Never mind, we’ll do it ourselves.”
If you are counting traction sand to get you through, think again.
Traction sand is not applied to straight aways. Wherever it’s placed, sand improves traction temporarily, until it gets blown off the road by passing vehicles.
ODOT plow crews work 12-hours shifts which is a really long time to operate heavy equipment in really lousy conditions. They’ll bump it up to 24/7 if required, and that might be happening with this next storm over Thanksgiving.