Chicagoans dig out from another winter storm

February 7, 2008 4:40:02 PM PST
Thursday is a day of cleaning up in many parts of the Chicago area after another winter storm left behind lots of snow. The hardest hit areas were the city's north and northwest suburbs, and people are dealing with a lot of snow and a dwindling supply of road salt.

Highwood is one of the communities hardest hit by the snowstorm. As a matter of fact, city officials say that the last time they saw as much snow was roughly eight years ago.

Still, crews managed to clear the streets. Most of Highwood's 5,000 residents were digging out Thursday morning.

"It's rough," said Highwood resident Angela McMillan. "I watched it all day yesterday coming down on my day off."

The latest winter blast dumped several inches of snow and made it difficult to get around most places except in Highwood, where the town's mayor said the difference is in the pavement.

"If you took a survey from Milwaukee to Chicago and ranked the cleanest streets in that area, we'd be number one," said Mayor Vincent Donofrio.

One crew chief in Highwood began his battle against the elements more than 24 hours ago. His road salt supply has dwindled to almost nothing.

"We're dealing the best we can with the sand. We'll survive. We'll get through it," Jeffrey Ponsi of the Public Works department said.

Highwood resident Michael Thal has the same attitude. He said he is not letting the bad weather slow him down.

"I'm going to Florida next week to see my parents," said Michael Thal, a Highwood resident.

Most Highwood residents say they are happy with the way the city has handled moving the snow out of the way.

Usually, Highwood's salt budget is around $50,000, but it has doubled already. The city uses about 400 tons of salt, normally. Now, they say they have used at least 8,000 tons of salt and need significantly more.

The plan now is to try to move the snow still in the area out into parking lots to allow people to use the sidewalks and other streets.

Schaumburg was another one of many north and northwest suburban communities that was hit hard by Wednesday's storm. It caused the Woodfield Mall to close down Wednesday but it is open Thursday until its normal time of 9 p.m.

There were several snow piles in parking lots that have to be cleared away in several communities. And there's a concern that if it snows again, there may not be enough salt to go around. Salt supplies were plentiful at the beginning of winter. But now, in some municipalities, it's a precious commodity.

"Everyone has been calling around trying to find where they can find other sources and what other ideas people have to spread the salt and extend its use," said Fred Mullard, the public works director for Lake in the Hills in McHenry County.

He said while the marathon snow-fighting efforts the last couple of days were successful in clearing the roads, the toll it took on the salt supply causes concern and prompted effort to seek salt elsewhere at double the cost. But while the salt pile shrinks, snow piles grow, especially in cul-de-sacs and cause even more challenges.

"We're going to try to rely on Mother Nature to get most of it to go away. If we get a lot more storms during the weekend, we may find ourselves out there with our dump trucks. Instead of salt, we will be back hauling the snow out and bringing it to areas we have set aside for dumping the snow," said Ponsi.

It's the same story in some Lake County communities. In Highwood, crews coming off long road-clearing shifts have to remove big piles of snow. Those same crews will have to go back over roads and salt them from a diminishing supply. Most of Highwood's streets are clear, down to the pavement, which means an easier commute to work Friday.

"I drove home yesterday. We left early from work. We closed our office. So we closed at about 11:30 and whiteout conditions all the way home," said Thal.

This winter could be a costly one. Many communities are seeing their salt budgets double this winter. Highwood may have to pay up to $100,000 for its salt supply, not to mention all of the overtime they have to pay their employees who spent long hours fighting the storm.