Colder temps and snow flurries signify winter is on its way. City begins preparing for first significant snowfall of season.

Winter in southern Minnesota can be described in many ways, but predictable isn’t one of them. What we can count on is at some point, it will snow and temperatures will drop below zero. There will be ice on the roads and high winds will raise the risk of being outdoors. 

While many of us take a “wait and see” approach to winter, the Sleepy Eye City Department has to be prepared to ensure that city roads can be traveled after a major snow event.

Recently the city department employees have been preparing for winter by moving trucks into the garage, fastening plows and salt spreaders on the trucks and finishing routine winter maintenence.

While last year was a decidely mild winter, the city department has to be prepared for a normal to worse-than-normal winter. Each year they keep about 150 tons of salt on-hand.

The city crew does their jobs of plowing roads to make them passable after a snowfall and Public Works Director Bob Elston said that the number one way people can help the plow drivers after a snowfall event is to remove parked cars from the street both residentially and commercially.

Signs are displayed on streets the city plans on plowing after a significant snowfall indicating that after midnight all cars should be removed from that street.

“We try to go out at night due to traffic,” Elston said, adding that plowing is usually between the hours of midnight and 8 a.m.

Working while most others are sleeping minimizes the risk of a collision with a vehicle and helps with efficiency of snow removal.

While they try to stick to the midnight to 8 a.m. schedule as best they can, Elston said that is dependant on many factors including the amount of snow and the time of day it has fallen.

“Usually by 8 a.m. people can get around town without disruption,” Elston added.

It is ideal for a street to be completely free of parked cars, however, Elston said he knows that isn’t always possible, especially for residents who don’t have an off-street parking option. What he recommends residents to do if off-street parking isn’t an option is to move the vehicle once it has been plowed around so that crews can clean off the street the following day.

Sleepy Eye does not declare a snow emergency, relying on the fact that residents realize that when there is a snowfall event, parked vehicles need to be removed from streets so plows can open the streets up.

Elston said he has received questions from residents wondering if the crew plows odd or even numbered sides of the streets first.

“We plow the entire street once we go out,” Elston said in answer to that question. “Once the street is plowed curb to curb it is safe to park again.” 

Many times signs alerting residents that snow plowing will take place at midnight are put out hours before. This is done, Elston said, to ensure that everyone, including those who may work split shifts, have plenty of notification.

Plowing generally begins downtown usually on Main Street, Highway 14, 2nd Ave North, 1st Ave. 2nd Ave E and two blocks on either side of Main Street and those streets listed.

On those downtown streets the snow is generally piled in the center of the street where it will eventually be hauled away to the city garage within 24 hours. While one crew is busy plowing downtown streets another crew begins on the north side of town. Once all the snow has been piled on Main Street, crews begin plowing the south end of town, typically beginning on the west end and plowing east. Alleys are always plowed last.

“We can’t open the alleys until all the streets are plowed,” Elston added.

Many times residents will find that for a short period of time they will have to drive around piles of snow on Main Street. Elston explained that, depending on the amount of snow, after the crews have piled all the snow into the center of the street the traffic has generally picked up and it creates a safety hazard to pick up the piled snow during that time.

To ensure a safe winter season, residents should be mindful of the crews working to plow open streets after a major snow fall event as snowplows travel slower than posted speed limits for effective clearing of the roads.

To ensure safe winter driving, slow down and allow at least five car lengths between your vehicle and the plow. Stay behind the snowplow and watch for snowplows that turn or exit frequently and often with little warning.