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Snow today, but – overall – lack of winter precipitation is leaving soil dry

Published: Friday, Jan. 25, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Friday, Jan. 25, 2013 11:20 a.m. CST
Caption
(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Salt trucks are filled and ready Wednesday at the Geneva Public Works facility.

After taking oversight of many of the roads in Blackberry Township, Rod Feece has expected to deal with snow, potholes, buckled pavements and a host of other road-related issues.

But one challenge Feece, Blackberry Township’s road commissioner, never expected to encounter was finding additional storage space for an abundance of unused salt.

“We’ve still got a lot of winter left, but we’ve hardly used any of the salt we started the winter with,” Feece said. “And we’ve got to take more eventually.

“So maybe we’ll have to find some additional space.”

Though snow has fallen today, the winter of 2012-13 has produced a historic lack of snowfall in the region.

According to the National Weather Service, the Chicago area had received just 1.7 inches of snow since Dec. 1. The Tri-Cities and central Kane County also have been bereft of snow, with just 2 inches of accumulation.

That means the region has received about 10 percent to 14 percent of the normal snowfall to date, according to the weather service.

“The snowfall locally has been just ridiculously light,” Gilbert Sebenste, meteorologist at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, said.

The lack of snow has prompted concern among those monitoring soil moisture, which will be a key in spring when farmers plant their crops.

Sebenste noted the drought conditions that characterized 2012 have continued into this winter.

“You go down a few inches in the soil right now, and you will find it is just bone dry,” Sebenste said.

Sebenste noted that rain has fallen in December and January, pushing precipitation levels for the season to at or near normal levels.

The National Weather Service noted that, through this week, about 3.8 to 4.2 inches of precipitation has fallen in Kane County since Dec. 1. Normally, the region records about 3.6 inches to date.

But Sebenste said with the onset of typical winter temperatures, the top layers of soil have frozen, meaning rainfall simply runs off into nearby streams.

“Basically, we need snow,” Sebenste said. “And lots of it.”

Though many are out today, those tasked with keeping local roadways clear of snow and ice are not lamenting the overall lack of snow.

Directors of road departments in central Kane County said they have saved thousands of dollars to date in overtime costs normally paid to snowplow drivers during storms and money on fuel and salt.

“It’s definitely helped our budget,” said Dan Dinges, public works director for Geneva.

Bill Edwards, director of maintenance for the Kane County Division of Transportation, said drivers who enjoy plowing snow are “itching” to put their blades down in a snowstorm. But others are enjoying “a normal winter life,” coming and going at normal hours of the day.

Dinges and Edwards noted that their work crews have not sat idle; they have used time normally devoted to clearing snow to other tasks, such as ditch maintenance, bridge replacements or the removal of trees infested with the emerald ash borer.

Dinges, Edwards and Feece also noted the accumulating piles of salt in their bins, although all ordered less this year than normal.

Dinges noted that in a typical year, Geneva purchases 2,000 tons of salt about $50 a ton. This year, the city ordered only 1,500 tons.

And more is still to be delivered because the city, like other local governments, must take delivery of a certain portion of its purchase under the terms of its contract through the state.

Dinges said his department likely will resort to storing the excess salt in bins normally dedicated to storage of gravel or dirt. But all noted there is a possibility that much of the salt still could be scattered on local roads before the winter is over.

Historically, the least amount of snow ever recorded for a winter, from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28, in the Chicago area came in 1930-31 when just 5.7 inches of snow fell.

But Sebenste noted that half of a winter’s typical snowfall could lie ahead.

Dinges said he wouldn’t be surprised by a sudden return to normal winter conditions.

“I’m expecting it to hit us again,” Dinges said. “It’s just a matter of when.”

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