Snow dangers piling up? Bank on it
Published 4:09 pm, Tuesday, February 1, 2011
The Old Farmers' Almanac warned that this would be a long, snow-heavy winter.
No one apparently heeded the message or geared up for the record snow fall that has blanketed southwestern Connecticut almost without stop since this winter's first big storm the day after Christmas.
Snow-removal budgets, including the allocations in Fairfield and Westport, are running low, as are places to put the unprecedented volume of snow. The plowed snow is mounting into huge banks in parking lots and along streets, impeding visibility and causing a doubling of motor vehicle accidents, at least in Fairfield, police report.
And tempers are flaring, leading to what one Westport police sergeant called "snow rage."
"With these storms arriving (so frequently) and being so prolonged and dumping so much snow, we're actually finding snow rage out there," said Sgt. Rich Frazier of the Westport police. In fact, Frazier said Westport police made an arrest Monday after a motorist backing out of a parking lot was inadvertently blocked by another motorist because of the narrow paths created by the snow mounts.
"It got physically confrontational. People have a short fuse," Frazier said.
Maureen Keltos of Fairfield seems unfazed by it all. "It is what it is. When you get a lot of snow it has to go somewhere. It gets into piles and it narrows everything. We're so accustomed to not being inconvenienced," Keltos said recently in the parking lot of the Super Stop & Shop at Villa Avenue and Tunxis Hill Road in Fairfield, which has snow mounds nearly 15 feet high from accumulated snow-clearing operations.
"We just have to be aware of each other. We have to gingerly go around the big piles, the obstructions," she said.
Georgia Merola of Bridgeport, who was parked in the same supermarket's lot, was a little less laid back about the towering snow banks. "This is ridiculous. They could knock this down and put it at Steele Point (in Bridgeport) or property at General Electric. We have the equipment to move it," Merola said.
But Keltos said there are only so many people on the municipal public works crews to do the work, "and you have to be mindful of budgets."
Frazier recommends leaving plenty of time for errands and exercising a greater measure of patience while dealing with these unusual conditions, which could be with us for another two months. The first day of spring is not until March 20.
Frazier's sentiment was echoed by Fairfield police Lt. James Perez. "I ask that everyone have a renewed patience level. They need to be patient. They need to take extra time. This is a dangerous time for everyone," he said.
It's dangerous for motorists who must move cautiously into intersections where sight lines are blocked by mounting snow. It's dangerous for pedestrians, dog-walkers and joggers who may not be visible to motorists because their vision is impaired by the tall snow piles. And it's dangerous because not everyone has cleared his or her sidewalk, forcing pedestrians into the roadways.
"People are going out in adverse weather to do their jog, and we're concerned that they may get caught up in a situation either because of poor visibility in the middle of a snow storm or poor sight line problems," Frazier said. Especially dangerous is the fact that many joggers run while listening to an iPod so they are distracted and may not hear or see a potential threat. "We don't want to see anyone get hit," he said.
Most communities have ordinances on the books that mandate snow removal from public rights-of-way on business and residential properties within a certain amount of time. Some municipalities issue fines for failure to comply. In Fairfield, Perez said snow must be cleared within 24 hours after a storm ceases. Complaints about non-compliance go to the Department of Public Works, whose workers will remove the snow and bill the homeowner or business owner.
In Westport, Frazier said residents and business owners have 24 hours to clear their properties' sidewalks. "But there are people with hardships. Either they cannot physically remove it or they can't find someone because the contractors are too busy to come and physically remove it and there's no place to put it," he said.
Frazier said Westport police have been aggressively trying to control the private plow operators to keep them from pushing snow into the streets, "Although, we have not been on a big ticket blitz. We've been more on a, `Let's stop and warn them and put them on notice.' Because of that we've been fortunate. They've been working with us," he said.
Merola recommended fining people for not removing snow in a timely fashion and using the funds collected from the fines to create a snow removal kitty.
The weather conditions are compounded by people who text and talk on cellphones while driving and people who don't clear snow from their vehicles, where flying chunks of snow and ice create risky situations for themselves and others.
Perez said there were 48 traffic accidents in Fairfield from 6:30 a.m. last Friday through 11 a.m. Monday. That's twice the number of accidents for the same time period on Dec. 2-5, when there was little or no snow on the ground, he said. Not all of those accidents are attributed to the weather conditions, but Perez suspects many may be. These fender-benders would not be written up so in a police report. Rather, a driver would be cited for failure to yield.
"It's a dangerous time out there right now," Frazier said.
And not just on the roads. There are reports of injuries related to the use of roof rakes, which have flown off store shelves as homeowners attempt to remove snow and ice from roofs to keep them from springing leaks or, worse, collapsing. There is a danger posed by using them too close to a home's power lines, and others have been hurt when they fall off ladders while using the rakes or they get hit by the rake itself, which can be difficult to wield.
"It looks harmless, but it can be a weapon. People need to use precautions even when using a simple roof rake. It can lead to tragedy," Perez said.
"It's a very difficult time because of the snow being present; it's a difficult time because of the snow that's predicted to fall in the next 48 hours -- that storm is going to be a bad one, and it's a difficult time because people are getting pretty fed up with it and they're not at their best," Frazier said.