Storm more trouble than blizzard
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · February 08, 2013

A midweek winter storm dropped about three to four inches of snow last week but, when mixed with wind chill temperatures nearing 25 degrees below zero, caused more problems to the city than the blizzard in late December.

A water main break under the Hoover Elementary-West Branch Middle School campus led to a boil-water order, slick roads contributed to three accidents and required salt, sand and brine to improve driving safety.

School was canceled Wednesday, Jan. 30, and some businesses closed, and school had two-hour delayed starts Thursday and Friday because of the extreme cold. A school make-up date is set for Monday, April 8.

During the Jan. 30 storm, many residents saw lights flickering. At least once resident reported losing power, but City Administrator Matt Muckler said he was unaware of any outages.

School Superintendent Kevin Hatfield said the water main break was discovered about 2:30 p.m. Jan. 31 and Lynch’s Plumbing had it repaired by about 9 p.m.

He said he directed the custodians and janitors to shut off the water fountains because of the boil order and purchased about $40 of bottled water to use for hand-washing throughout the two schools. Staff also put out bottles of antibacterial gel.

A note to pupils encouraged them to bring bottled drinking water; and one pupil reported the middle school had drinking water in the office with Dixie cups.

The boil order also affected four homes on Foster Street and two on North Maple. The boil order was lifted Saturday night.

Public Works Director Matt Goodale said the water main at the school was easier to isolate than most, which was why the boil order only affected a small amount of customers.

Goodale said a second water line break happened near a fire hydrant on Cedar-Johnson County Line Road, also on Jan. 31. He said city workers shut off the water to the hydrant and will dig it up in the spring. If a fire breaks out near there, another hydrant sits 500 feet to the south, he said.

“Because of the cold, this storm was somewhat worse than the blizzard,” Goodale said. “But this snow cleaned up better.”

Yet while this storm left less ice on the roads after plowing, the hours the crew put in and the volume of salt, sand and brine exceeded that of the December blizzard.

In December, Goodale estimated the road crews using 54 tons of salt-and-sand mix and 600 gallons of brine. In last week’s storm, the road crews used 63 tons of salt-and-sand mix and 1,500 gallons of brine.

And workers put in 104 hours keeping the roads clear.

Fire Chief Kevin Stoolman said that the aftermath is often worse than the storm itself because drivers “underestimate the dangers” when the snowflakes stop falling.

The three accidents ran from about 7 p.m. Jan. 30 through about 6 a.m. Jan. 31.

One was a head-on crash between a sedan and a pickup truck about 7 p.m. on Herbert Hoover Highway, about two miles east of downtown; no one was injured, Stoolman said.

According to a Cedar County Sheriff’s report, Abigayle Nopoulos, 15 1/2, of West Liberty was driving a 2007 Chevy Impala when she lost control and crossed the center line, her car colliding with a 2006 Dodge Ram driven by Isaac Stoll, 33, of Atalissa. Stoll’s pickup truck slid off the south side of the road and down the hill.

No citations were issued in the crash.

The temperature was about 5 degrees, but wind ranged from 10 to 15 miles per hour, so emergency responders worked in temperatures that felt like 10 to 13 degrees below zero.

A second call came about 2 a.m. Friday of a car that slid into a ditch near the 252 milemarker on Interstate 80.

The third was about 6 to 6:30 a.m. Friday on Baker Avenue about three miles south of the city when a car rolled over, injuring the driver, who was taken to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics by Johnson County Ambulance.

Just outside the West Branch fire district, two trucks spun out on I-80, one near the Durant exit, and one near the West Liberty exit, blocking traffic for hours in both directions the morning of Jan. 30.

A tow ban was put in effect Jan. 30 for Cedar County, though one car remained in the ditch into the weekend.

A bit of extra snow fell over the weekend but temperatures warmed up to the 20s by then.

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