Snowstorms continue to plague Greenwich

Town crews have been kept busy all winter long transporting snow from Greenwich’s streets to one of three locations for melting. The town is close to spending its snow removal budget and Greenwich is moving close to setting new records for snowfall in a winter. —John Ferris Robben

Town crews have been kept busy all winter long transporting snow from Greenwich’s streets to one of three locations for melting. The town is close to spending its snow removal budget and Greenwich is moving close to setting new records for snowfall in a winter.  —John Ferris Robben

This winter season is shaping up to rival some of the snowiest winters Greenwich has ever seen.

As of last weekend’s storm, the town has accumulated roughly 76 inches total. To put this in context, this winter is comparable to the 2010-11 season, which saw about 79 inches of snow. In some years, the town doesn’t get more than 60 inches of snow. It’s evident that this year is no such case. It’s possible that by the end of winter, we may come close to topping another notably snowy year in town history: the 86 inches of snowfall of the 1995-96 season. While last year’s blizzards witnessed record two- to three-foot storms, cumulatively the season is comparable to the frequent but smaller six- to 12-inch storms experienced this year.

The snow that left more than 11 inches of snow on the ground in Greenwich last Thursday and Friday was followed up by another storm on Tuesday morning that left several more inches of snow on top of what was already there. Tuesday’s storm also extended the winter break for Greenwich Public Schools, as students had been poised to return to class only to receive a snow day instead because of the slick roads. That officially uses up the five snow days allotted in the calendar, and if any more cancellations are needed, days would have to be added back in order to satisfy the state requirement that students be in school a minimum of 180 days during a school year.

Unsurprisingly, this amount of heavy snowfall presents an array of other challenges for the town aside from school cancellations. This winter has been distinctive in its frequency of storms, with what feels like sizable but not epic snowstorms every few days. While the average snowfall per storm can be described as moderate when compared to previous years, the sheer number of storms has made the total effect just as severe. Each individual storm, even if less than a few feet, requires substantial efforts from the town.

“A lot of what we’ve seen this winter are normal-size storms that just tend to hit more often. … Even though there has been comparable snowfall amount, there hasn’t been a comparable snowstorm amount,” said Jacob Meisel, an amateur meteorologist who runs the popular blog Swctweather.com, where he publishes Fairfield County weather updates. Mr. Meisel has been a frequent guest on Hersam Acorn Radio’s storm coverage.

The town Department of Public Works Highway Division is responsible for removing snow from roughly 265 miles of roads, parking lots, school facilities, and other public areas. Each year, about $925,000 is budgeted for snow removal, a figure that excludes regular salary cost. This amount does include overtime, temporary services, equipment rental, and materials. Because of the burdens presented by this snowy winter, the town is close to exceeding this number.

As of Tuesday, it remained unknown if the budget had been exceeded, though Commissioner of Public Works Amy Siebert acknowledged that it was likely, meaning the department will have to go before the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) for more money.

“We are definitely close to or over that number,” Ms. Siebert said. “We need to get the latest figures from the weekend as well as what [Tuesday’s] snow effects may be. As in past years with significant snow or bad weather, we expect we may have to request an interim appropriation.”

This winter’s hefty amount of snowfall has virtually eclipsed the town’s projected snowfall expectations, which are set at a fixed average of 30-32 inches. As of Tuesday’s most recent snowfall, it follows that over-reaching budget limitations is probable. Both First Selectman Peter Tesei and Ms. Siebert recognize that an interim appropriation of funds will be inevitable. This is done by requesting such an appropriation through the BET and the Representative Town Meeting.

Just as this winter presents a strain to the allotted budget, it has also depleted the town’s salt supply. Cities around the country have reportedly been struggling with salt shortages this winter, but fortunately Greenwich remains in the clear and has even been able to assist other municipalities like Bridgeport. Ms. Siebert said the town’s supply is currently in “reasonable shape,” and that the stockpile will be replenished when salt deliveries from the supplier resume this week.

“We were fortunate to have purchased road salt and have plenty of provisions,” Mr. Tesei said. “Due to this, we loaned Bridgeport 130 tons and Weston 20 tons to get them through the last storm. Both municipalities will return the like amount when they receive their shipment,” said Mr. Tesei.

Cleaning up after the storms is no small feat, and thus Public Works has spent a significant amount on overtime. Ms. Siebert said that before last Saturday’s storm, the department had already reached its overtime budget. Snow removal, depending on the size of the storm, can take from eight to 10 hours, and often requires overnight work to clean commuter and pedestrian-heavy commercial areas and parking lots. Ms. Siebert said the efforts of the workers of the Highway Division, Parks and Recreation and local contractors, which often go unrecognized, are indispensable.

“Our highway staff are out there cleaning up so we can go about our business as close to as normal as we can — frequently while we are home sleeping,” said Ms. Siebert. “I am always grateful to our own staff and to all the people out there all across the state who keep us moving in this weather. … It’s easy to lose track of what a challenge it is when we get this much snow.”

Mr. Tesei also commended the town staff and Highway Division crew for their hard work, saying that with Greenwich’s 50 square miles and varied topography and density, their work is a challenging undertaking. Currently, all snow removal is routed to three designated areas across town: the Holly Hill Resource Recovery Facility site, the parking lots at Grass Island and the Bible Street Community Center parking lot.

“The Greenwich community and town services have done well during the extraordinary snowfall this winter. … DPW Highway Division crews and town staff have done an exceptional job in managing snow removal and ice control. I am very proud of their work. Kudos to all of them,” said Mr. Tesei.

While the storms have had an impact on government offices throughout the state, Greenwich has managed to stay open more often than not, even when other towns were closing their town halls. Mr. Tesei said Greenwich Town Hall closes only in the case of a statewide “state of emergency” called by the governor, or if there is a localized event and the first selectman, as the municipality’s chief elected official, declares a “state of emergency” in the town. Without that, he said, Town Hall remains open for the continuance of operations.

“Our dedicated employees manage to safely navigate their way to work through mass transit or staggered arrival. Those who live further distance may choose to remain at home and the decision is left to their discretion,” said Mr. Tesei.

Perhaps these actions can all be interpreted as indicators of the town’s success to date in effectively managing inherently unpredictable winter storms. According to Mr. Meisel, the lack of heavy storms in the range of two to three feet of snowfall has made it easier on Fairfield County and the state of Connecticut as a whole.

“Overall, there have been no major winter storms. There’s been a bunch of storms but nothing so bad requiring the state to take any drastic policy,” said Mr. Meisel.

While this snowy season may not be the most troubling Greenwich has ever seen, as this year’s total snowfall continues to inch up to record highs, most residents are hoping that the relentless snowfall will take a break. According to weather models and data consulted by Mr. Meisel, following Tuesday’s short winter storm, the town should finally see a few days of respite.

 

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