For most people, riding out a winter storm involves hot cocoa and old reruns. For the men and women keeping the roads clear, the power on and the mail delivered, it’s a whole different story.
Ever since last Friday, we’ve had our people brining, salting and clearing the roads,” said Jeff Baines, Lebanon’s commissioner of public works.
Baines said that when his pastor called him to check on the roads this past Sunday, it didn’t take long before Baines told him to call off the service. The ice was here to stay. “Snow is one thing, but ice is terrible.”
Baines has been in Lebanon a long time. He said in the last 30 years, he can’t remember a time when garbage pickup was suspended for an entire week. After meeting with department heads and the mayor, the decision was made to resume pick up next week. To account for the recycling, anyone on week A’s schedule will have their recyclables picked up Monday. Anyone on week B’s schedule could expect their carts picked up Tuesday.
Baines also said, if extra bags, including garbage are by the carts, they will still be picked up to account for the missed week.
What does it take to get those roads ready for collection services and traffic? Wilson County Road Superintendent Steve Murphy said that they start from the top town. “Our main priority is getting the primary roads open.”
After that, Murphy says they can start allocating resources toward less trafficked and rural roads. Murphy said the way this winter system stuck around for so long, made getting out in front of it almost impossible. “For every two steps forward we took, Mother Nature knocked us back five.”
Murphy remembers bigger snow days when he was younger. “Years ago when I was a kid, we had storms like this. The county didn’t have all the resources we did today so things just shut down.
“Now they don’t come around as often so people aren’t really used to it.” he said.
Murphy commended his workers. “I’ve got to hand it to them. They have been out here every day since Sunday.”
Murphy said one plow truck slid off the road. To get it out they had to use a wrecker, but before they could get the wrecker out there, they had to salt the road.
Murphy explained how little hiccups can have a snowball effect on the operation. Some of the public works plows weigh 60,000. When you’ve got that much weight traveling over slick ice, you’re at the ice’s whim. “We have to go over these roads two or three times to get the results we’re after,” he said. “I’m putting my guys in danger, but it’s our job. They go out and do the best they can.
“These guys have families just like everybody else. People complain but they don’t realize the dedication it takes, and the stress it puts on my guys.”
Murphy said he wished he had more men to help alleviate long shifts and estimates his crews had crossed the 70-hour threshold as early as Thursday. His main hope is that the “big bright eye in the sky comes back out.”
Roads are a critical service that people rely on to connect them with the outside world. But there is another connector threatened by winter storm systems, the electric grid. People in Wilson County get their power from the Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation.
Amy Byers is the marketing and public relations coordinator at MTEMC. She said the utility prepares for severe weather events. With abundant resources and manpower across their four counties of service, MTEMC can arrange crews strategically in predetermined locations. This way they are closer to potential emergencies and less likely to be stuck traversing perilous roads.
Byers says if it turns out to be a light storm, then it can serve as practice. And if it’s a major storm, then they’ll be prepared.
Byers said the prep work for an event like this actually takes place year round. “Long story short, (MTEMC) has a plan for any emergency. We practice our plan, so when they arise we can execute.”
One big part of MTEMC’s plan involves vegetation management. This matters in any season, but is very important during winter storms. “When limbs freeze or break they risk downing power lines or blocking roads, both things we want to prevent,” Byers said.
“We were fortunate not to have had a big ice build up on the lines,” she said. According to Byers, their power lines are built to withstand a half inch of ice accumulation. They seem to have held up during this storm, as Wilson County went without any major power outages this week.
Following any weather event, MTE also does debriefing to assess what went right, what went wrong, and what could be improved. Byers said, “We want to take these opportunities to really show our members how much they mean to us.”
Connections aren’t just electronic. The Post Office has been bringing people together since the 1800s. A storm like this would throw anyone off, but people still expect the mail to get delivered.
Susan Wright is a regional communications director for the United States Postal Service. The people who work for USPS, especially delivery drivers, face perilous road conditions. According to Wright, “Employees receive extensive safety training, including driver’s training for those whose duties include operating a motor vehicle. This training is supplemented on a regular basis with safety talks, videos, and other communication methods.”
Unlike other organizations or government agencies, the vehicles postal workers drive aren’t always equipped to handle unpredictable weather issues. So when an emergency does arise, or a vehicle gets stuck, they have a chain of command to relay the information.
“While delivery may be impacted due to road closures, impassable roads and inaccessibility of mailboxes, USPS will make every attempt to deliver to all addresses,” Wright said.