Snow snarls Caldwell

Work turns to clearing it away
Feb. 13, 2014 @ 07:03 PM

Three days of warnings about how much snow Caldwell County may have gotten everyone's attention.

Once the snow started falling, many people stayed off the streets, and most businesses closed early -- even Walmart, usually open 24 hours, closed at 10 p.m. Wednesday after some employees reported they couldn't make it.

But as the gray sky lightened Thursday morning, through the snowy quiet came the rumbling of diesel engines. The snow that shut down so many businesses became a business opportunity for people such as Danny Bradley, whose landscaping company offers to plow parking lots when it snows.

A few businesses have a standing contract for the work, he said, but most jobs are from last-minute decisions. "They just call me," he said. He and two employees were working along Harper Avenue about 8 a.m. when a manager at the nearby Sonic Drive-In flagged Bradley down and hired him to plow the restaurant's lot. Bradley expected they would stay busy into the night.

"We got on the list to do about 20 right now, and they're still calling," he said about 9 a.m.

The official snowfall total was in the lower end of the range that forecasters predicted -- about 5 inches, the National Weather Service said. Wednesday night, forecasts had said the total could be as little as 5 inches or could top 10 inches.

But Charles Beck, public works director for Lenoir, estimated that 9 inches fell downtown. The city had 14 workers with four snowplows, two graders, two sand trucks and sidewalk snowblowers clearing streets and sidewalks Thursday.

“Downtown, we’ve had so much snow that we’ve had to kind of row it up in the middle of the street and are in the process of hauling it” to the public parking lot on Ridge Street behind First Baptist Church, Beck said.

Temperatures Thursday afternoon climbed into the 40s, helping icy roads become slushy, and slushy roads become mostly clear. But while busy roads were easily navigable by late Thursday afternoon, side and country roads were still tricky, said Leslie Earp, a manager at Piccolo's Pizza in Lenoir, which opened as usual at 10 a.m. and offering delivery -- with a caveat. For each delivery call, managers checked the route and asked the customer about local road conditions.

The N.C. Department of Transportation had 18 employees and nine contract workers working 12-hour shifts to keep the highways clear while it snowed, said Kenny Heavner, DOT county maintenance engineer. Late Thursday morning, they shifted to secondary roads.

The biggest challenge workers clearing streets had to contend with Thursday, Beck said, was the same as when it snowed two weeks ago: Wet roads under the snow froze, creating a layer of ice “making it real difficult to cut,” he said.

Estel Osborne, a superintendent of streets for Lenoir, was driving a truck, worked a snowplow through lunch and expected crews to continue into Thursday night. “We’ll run a crew around the clock until we get ahead of this thing,” Osborne said

Roads that weren't clear and dry Thursday could be hazardous again this morning as temperatures drop back to the mid-20s. But today's forecast calls for a high around 45 and a slight chance of rain in the afternoon.

And we might not be done with the snow: The National Weather Service says the rain could turn to snow Friday night, but it probably would amount to less than an inch.