Responding to emerging problems: Flooded roads, potholes replace snow as the travel hazard du jour
Although snowflakes are few and far between in Delaware as of 3:30 p.m., Thursday, the National Weather Service predicts that snowfall will gradually increase over the state and continue through Thursday night into Friday. However, forecasts for accumulation have been lowered since early Thursday morning.
By Friday mid-day, New Castle County is expected to get up to six inches, Kent County, four to five inches, and Sussex County, three inches. The NWS said the Winter Storm Warning will remain in effect until noon Friday because of the length of time that snow and high winds will have affected the state.
While the state gets a bit of a reprieve on snow accumulation, high sustained winds and powerful gusts are predicted to buffet Delaware into Friday. Sustained winds could be 20 to 30 mph with gusts up to 40 and 45 mph. This can caused limited visibility, even with light snow fall. Powerful gusts can also make driving hazardous, especially in high profile vehicles. The snow is wetter and heavier than earlier snow falls and has the potential to cause more damage to trees and power lines, especially if winds are strong.
Even though there is limited snow accumulation Thursday, crews are working to minimize two other risks to motorists – flooding and potholes.
Because the latest rains could not soak into ground that was already saturated from a week of rapidly melting snow, two roads in New Castle are closed and many roads throughout Delaware are partially flooded.
Route 9 near Dobbinsville, and Old Airport Road, next the Delaware Fire School, both in New Castle County are closed, due to flooding.
“In Sussex County there are many, roads that are partially covered by water,” said Jim Westhoff, spokesman for the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT). “Many of those roads have one lane under water. Fortunately, Delaware drivers are polite enough to take turns driving around the water.”
There is little that crews can do, other than put up warning barrels, lights and signs, Westhoff said. “In many cases, the entire field next the road is flooded as well.”
Potholes are another hazard for Delaware motorists. While crews are working to fix or place warning barrels around dangerous potholes, there are hundreds across the state. “Right now, we have the perfect recipe for potholes,” Westhoff said. “As the rain water and snow thaws, it seeps into cracks in the road. When the liquid freezes, the water expands, pushing out the piece of road. With the heavy traffic of plows, the chunks of road become loose, and we have potholes.”
Despite the challenges, DelDOT makes every effort to attend to the pothole problems. Maintenance crews in all counties have spent some time this week laying out “cold patch” material to fill and repair trouble spots. We will keep doing this work as needed. In the spring and through the summer more permanent hot mix repairs will be made to areas that are more problematic.
Residents are advised to knock accumulated snow off of tree limbs whenever possible. Evergreens are particularly prone to damage and limb loss from heavy snow. Falling trees and limbs also pose a hazard if they are near power lines.
Rosanne Pack, spokesperson for Delaware Emergency Management Agency, said that with the downgraded prediction, the State Emergency Operation Center will be minimally staffed overnight Thursday with other staff available to respond if needed. Offices of Emergency Management in the counties and the City of Wilmington will monitor weather conditions overnight with plans to conduct regular business hours Friday.
Pack said, “Even though it appears that the state will be spared another crippling snow storm Thursday into Friday, motorists are still advised to use utmost caution when traveling after snowfall intensifies. Homeowners are reminded to use safety measures in their homes should they lose power during the storm.” She said candles and other open flame light sources should not be used because of potential fire hazard, and portable generators should never be used in a confined space, including a garage or car port or near a window opening into the house. Fumes can cause carbon monoxide poisoning or death.