By J. PATRICK PEPPER
Sunday Times Newspapers
Bone-chilling air and more snow swept the region this week, making what already has been a wet winter bitterly cold.
Average daytime temperatures hovered in the single digits, while nighttime temperatures frequently plunged below zero, making even the shortest outdoor trips a foreboding prospect.
“It burns your skin,” said 25-year-old snowplow driver Mark Hook. “The cold usually doesn’t bother me, but I don’t even want to get out of the truck in this.”
The inclement weather helped turn area roadways into adult-sized slip-and-slides, with accidents happening all week on the slick streets. Despite the efforts of snow removal crews to spread salt, the usually effective de-icing method did little to prevent patches of ice from forming in the frigid cold.
Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman Rob Morosi explained that salt is used because it acts as a disruption to the formation of ice crystals, making it more difficult for a sheet to form. But in temperatures like these, he said, there is little that can be done other than urge drivers to use caution.
“Our drivers are out there working their tails off,” Morosi said. “But really in weather like this, there is only so much we can do besides encourage safe driving.”
Instead of the usual two- to three-car gap recommended between motorists, Morosi said drivers should double that measure in subzero temperatures.
Area police reported an increase in traffic accidents over the week, though it was unclear how many of those were weather related. Dearborn Heights Sgt. Rick Suchy said people are best advised to stay off the road in weather like this, adding that just because a vehicle is four-wheel drive doesn’t mean it can handle patches of ice.
Roadways weren’t the only thing bedeviling commuters though, as many cars simply wouldn’t start. AAA Michigan spokesman Jim Rink said the company’s roadside assistance branch had to call in workers from other departments just to help compensate for the unusually high volume of service calls. Rink said the number of calls was at least double what a typical winter week brings.
The cold was worse than just an inconvenience to drivers, as it caused headaches for municipal utility workers trying to keep residents with full service. Jack Franzil, director of public works in Dearborn Heights, said the cold snap made for more water main breaks than usual. According to Franzil, the city averaged a water main break per day over the course of the week.
“It’s difficult to keep up with and they’re tougher repairs,” said Franzil. “The ground’s frozen, the crews are frozen, the tools freeze. It’s been a long week.”
In some form, hope is on the way. While it certainly isn’t a San Diego forecast, temperatures are expected to pick up this week and hover in the mid-20s, breaking past the 30 mark on Thursday.