Kelly says it’s starting to look a lot like the winter of 1996-97 out there

    Pat Kelly says he hasn’t seen Crookston streets narrowed by high snow drifts and snow piled this high all around town since the infamous winter of 1996-97, which preceded the flood of 1997.

    And to further illustrate just how intense the winter of 2018-19 has been over the past several weeks, Kelly, the longtime City of Crookston Public Works director, made his remarks before the latest of several winter storms and blizzards blew into Crookston Wednesday and Thursday.

    “It’s been quite a while since we’ve had an extended run (of storms) like this; every time we turn around it’s snowing,” Kelly told the Times. “Things are starting to look a lot like the mid- and late-1990s when we had all that snow. The street corners…the banks are getting really high.

    “Everyone’s getting a little…edgy,” he continued. “It’s a lot of snow and there’s not a lot of places to put it anymore so I think everyone is feeling a little squeezed and boxed in.”

    Since the calendar on the City’s budget turned to 2019 only a few weeks ago, Kelly said it’s a bit early to weigh in on the impact all of the plowing and snow removal has had on his Public Works budget, which has a line item labeled “Snow and Ice Removal.” Kelly said if there’s a plus side to all of the storms that have dumped so much snow on Crookston, it’s that for the most part they’ve occurred during the work week and not on the weekends. “So we’ve been able to time crews out without expending a ton of overtime,” he said. “But it’s only early February, so that could change.”

    Kelly said he tries to limit his crew members to shifts of a maximum 12 hours. He recalls that not being always possible during the winter of 1996-97, but so far this winter he said he’s been able to stick to his 12-hour shift limit.

    “It’s a tiring, straining job,” he said. “And the longer you go, the more chances you have to get in accidents.”

    Kelly credited improved weather forecasting technology for giving him a better idea further in advance of when he’s going to have to lean heavily on his snow removal crew once again. “You have a better shot today of knowing what’s coming and when, and when things will wind down,” he said. “We try to time it best for when I send the crews out so we can make the most of them. We don’t have a crew that can go 24 hours, so we have to pick our spots.”

    As the storms have increased in number and intensity, Kelly acknowledged it’s taking his crews longer to clear snow from some streets compared to more normal circumstances. The more snow there is, he said, the longer it takes to find a place to push it and pile it up.

    Kelly operates with three plow truck routes and two road grader routes, plus a front-end loader route that focuses on alleys and cul de sacs. When his sanitation crew is finished collecting that day’s garbage, he said they will then start sanding streets or helping with another front-end loader where needed. At the maximum, he said, there could be eight vehicles out and about in Crookston moving snow or sanding.

    Kelly has Crookston broken into five segments for plowing and snow removal. They’ll hit places like North Broadway, Barrette Street, Old Highway 75 and other primary arteries first, and then work their way to other areas and neighborhoods.

    The Sunday/Monday storm earlier this week took a toll, he said.

    “I think people are used to us getting done with the streets in four or five hours, but there was a lot more snow there and it was heavier,” Kelly said. “We’re getting to a point where the banks and boulevards are so high, it takes a while longer just to widen things up a bit. Then you have cars stuck in the streets, and it’s going to take us longer.”

    So instead of four or five hours, after the Sunday/Monday storm, he said it took around nine hours to hit all of the streets in town. “The wind is helping,” Kelly added. “You get this much snow piled up and some wind, and things start to fill in again pretty quick.”