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KC prepares for what coming storm will bring — the good and the bad

Updated: 2013-02-20T15:46:01Z

By ROBERT A. CRONKLETON

The Kansas City Star

Forecasters are warning us to hunker down Wednesday night ready for the worst snowstorm we’ve seen in two years.

Of course, the way winter’s been playing out around here lately, that might not be saying much.

The National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill says we can expect 6 to 10 inches of snow, with the heaviest falling north of a line from Leavenworth to Richmond, Mo. Sleet and ice will be in the mix, too. The worst of the ice looks like it will be south of a line from Paola, Kan., to Warrensburg, Mo.

Across the metro area, we’ve spent the start of the start of the week preparing for whatever that winter mix will bring — the bad and the good.

Time flies

When the last bad storm hit two years ago, Erin Gregory of Lee’s Summit was nine months pregnant with her first child.

“The whole month, there was lots of ice and snow,” Gregory said. “A lot of family and friends unwittingly were freaking me out asking me if I was going to make it to the hospital.”

She and her husband, Will Gregory, lived only five minutes from the hospital but the thought of slick, snowy roads scared her. It ended up not being an issue when Darby Mae was born on Feb. 21, 2011.

This week’s forecast reminded Erin just how fast kids grow. Two years ago, they were scurrying home through slush with the newborn, worried about the next snowstorm.

“Now she’s old enough to say, ‘Snowing,’ and being able to go out in it and sled,” she said.

And while the family looks forward to the snow on their daughter’s birthday, they hope the roads clear in time for the birthday party they have planned for Saturday.

Ready to plow

“We have been watching this as a potential issue since the weekend,” said Sean Demory, the public information officer for Kansas City’s Public Works Department. “This is the work we do. We try to make sure we are prepared for snow events of any size.”

Demory said the city is good and ready for what’s shaping up to be the season’s first major snowstorm. Because there wasn’t much of a winter last year, Kansas City is at capacity for everything crews need to get us through the snow and ice. All the vehicles are stocked and ready to go.

City crews on Tuesday began pre-treating 2,800 lane miles of arterial streets with a brine solution. They also pre-treated some trouble spots on residential streets, including curves and the bottoms of hills, with sand or sand and salt.

And while some people look forward to snow, many others, like Rachelle Cornelius, a bridge maintenance engineer for Kansas City’s Public Works Department, isn’t too excited about the possibility of working all night long for several days at a time.

“It is just a long day,” said Cornelius, Kansas City’s night-time supervisor of snow removal operations.

Across the state line, Thomas Cummings of the Overland Park Public Works Department has a different view. Even after 22 years as an equipment operator, including driving a snow plow, he still looks forward to snowstorms.

“It’s different than working on the street, doing pothole and pavement repairs,” Cummings said. “It’s also a challenge.”

Each storm is different, he said. The trick is being mentally prepared and getting as much rest as possible — and making sure everything is working properly on the truck.

“I do like the snow. It is beautiful,” he said.

Sales shift

At Strasser Hardware in Kansas City, Kan., signs of the seasons were changing from spring back to winter before this week’s forecast came out.

The hardware store had already put almost all the snow shovels in storage to make room for grass seed and fertilizer.

“Normally that is done the first week of March — we started a little earlier this year,” said lawn and garden manager Galen Wilhelm. “It seemed like spring was on its way. Or people were in the mood for spring.”

But that wishful thinking came to an end Monday morning.

“Our first customer wanted 30 bags of ice melt,” Wilhelm said. That’s 30, 50-pound bags of ice melt.

“That was our first call I got,” Wilhelm said. “That had me thinking, ‘Does he know something that we don’t?’ ”

As news spread about the forecast, so did the orders for ice melt and snow shovels. On Wednesday morning, the fertilizer went into storage to make way for ice melt and snow shovels.

“Yesterday we got our spring order in in lawn and garden,” Wilhelm said. “There’s always an overlap between seasons. The late snow has caught us before.”

Snow day!

Abby Henderson’s 5-year-old son, Hank, and 8-year-old son, Gus, are excited about the possibility of a snow day on Thursday.

“They like school,” said Henderson, who lives in Overland Park. “But it’s the excitement of it all. They didn’t have any last year, so it’s a special treat.”

This will be the second time that Hank, who attends Rolling Hills Preschool, and Gus, who goes to Trailwood Elementary, will have a snow day this school year.

A snow storm in December got their winter break started one day early.

But this storm is coming at a bad time. There’s a school auction on Saturday night and Henderson had a full week of activities that was planned around her kids being in school.

“I guess I will take them with me as much as I can,” she said.

While they’re home, the kids will surely want to play in the snow. That, Henderson said, means 20 minutes to dress for 20 minutes of outdoor play, and then taking clothes off.

“They will repeat that process 10 or 20 times,” she said. “And then I will have that pile of laundry.”

Gardener’s boon — or bane

“When it comes to the drought, we will take moisture in almost any form it comes,” said Dennis Patton, Johnson County’s K-State Research and Extension horticulture agent.

Almost.

A blanket of snow melts gently and slowly, recharging the subsoil with moisture, Patton said. Same for rains.

“If it is an ice storm, then those beloved trees we have been praying for are potentially under the gun for wind damage or from the weight of the freezing rain,” Patton said.

A lot of people don’t like that gently-melting snow, though, and even Patton is torn this time around. He has a guest speaker coming in to train about 150 people in the master gardener program Thursday morning. Rescheduling won’t be easy.

If an ice storm does hit us, Patton said, one of the biggest mistake people could make would be to beat trees with brooms to knock the ice off. That can cause more damage as it gets the weight on the trees moving, increasing the stress.

“Falling ice off tree limbs and branches is also like falling glass,” he said. “You kind of have to leave it alone and let nature take its course.”

People also shouldn’t cover bushes or shrubs with a sheet or blanket because it will only add more weight from the ice or snow.

“From a gardener’s standpoint, bring it on,” he said.

But keep it off the streets and sidewalks.

To reach Robert A. Cronkleton, call 816-234-4261 or send email to bcronkleton@kcstar.com.

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