Plows can’t keep up with snow

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Snow graders clear the westbound side of Fourth Avenue West on Monday afternoon in Kalispell. The car on the left got stuck in the deep snow while this picture was being taken. Clearing the heavy snow has been a challenge for city and county plow crews. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Flathead County snowplows have been out in full force, but with 836 miles of county roads to cover and a storm inundating the county with snow, road crews are stretched to the maximum, county Public Works Director Dave Prunty said.

“We’re bordering on a paralyzing snow event,” Prunty said Monday morning as he prepared to hand out copies of the weather forecast to the county commissioners. “It’ll take the week to get caught up, and the forecast doesn’t look good. If the wind hits, it could be paralyzing for a few days.”

The National Weather Service predicts areas of blowing snow today — with gusts as high as 31 mph — along with another 2 to 4 inches of snow in the Flathead Valley. That’s on top of well over a foot of snow that fell on the valley floor Sunday night and Monday.

Prunty said the county has 12 graders and 18 trucks clearing roads. Crews start at 5:30 a.m. and will work 10-hour shifts on a seven-day basis until they’re caught up. The county doesn’t have a night-time plowing crew.

“We don’t have the luxury of three shifts like MDT [Montana Department of Transportation],” Prunty said.

The Road Department will work in tandem with the Sheriff’s Office on any road closures because of the extreme winter weather. Key collector roads will be kept open, but less-traveled county roads may not get plowed right away.

“It could be a stay-at-home couple of days,” Prunty said. “Most of the phone calls we get are, ‘When are you going to get to us?’”

He alerted the commissioners that they, too, likely will get calls from county residents about snowplowing.

It’s a challenge finding places to put the snow, he added, because all of the roadside ditches are full.

CITY SNOWPLOWING crews also are struggling to keep streets open.

“We can’t keep up,” said Sherri Baccaro, assistant to the Whitefish Public Works director.

Whitefish workers started at midnight both Saturday and Sunday and will continue that schedule until they get the streets cleared.

“With this snowfall, it could take five to 10 days to completely clear the streets,” Baccaro said.

Whitefish has six snowplows and one grader to service 62 miles of city streets and alleys. Two of the snowplows were down for repairs Monday morning.

Emergency snow routes such as Baker and Columbia avenues, Second Street and Hospital Way are the city’s first priority to maintain during major snow events. After that, collector and commercial streets are cleared, followed by residential streets, cul-de-sacs and parking lots and lastly, alleys.

Vehicles left on city streets make it difficult for snowplows to effectively clear a roadway, she said. Whitefish plows east-west streets prior to noon, and north-south routes after noon.

Columbia Falls City Manager Susan Nicosia said that city’s snowplowing crew also has been challenged to keep streets cleared.

“It’s just constant,” she said about the heavy snowfall that was expected to continue today. “It just keeps coming down faster” than the city crew can keep up with.

Columbia Falls uses three employees from the water and wastewater departments to supplement the city’s normal street crew of three people.

The crew plowed for 12 hours on Sunday, then rested up and hit it again at midnight. Columbia Falls has 39 miles of city street and 22 miles of alleys, but now all alleyways are plowed, Nicosia said.

IN KALISPELL, the city issued urgent requests to the public Monday morning asking residents to remove parked vehicles from main avenues and streets so plowing crews could do their jobs.

“We need full access to the street to clear the snow away,” a press release from the Public Works Department stated.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at

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