By Alice E. Gerard
On Christmas Day, Grand Island woke up to a fresh layer of snow and to ice forming on the creeks.
By the next day, Grand Island was in the tight grasp of a deep freeze, with temperatures dropping from the mid-30s to a high of 14 degrees. It became too cold to engage in outdoor activities, such as sledding at Beaver Island State Park or skating at two free ice rinks provided by the town's Parks and Recreation Department. Those ice rinks can be found at Kaegebein Elementary School on Love Road and at Veterans Park, said Youth Programs Coordinator Dominique DeGregorio.
During this current deep freeze, the National Weather Service has warned against engaging in outdoor activities, saying, "This is a potentially dangerous situation to be outdoors. If you must be outside, be sure to cover all exposed skin. Frostbite can occur in 30 minutes or less with apparent temperatures of 15 below zero or colder."
The recent snowfall and the ongoing deep freeze also has had an impact in how people drive their cars. Eric Ostertag, manager at Marty's Towing Inc., said that there has been an increase in the number of cars "sliding off the road" and in calls for jump-starts and battery replacements. "People, over the past few years, got used to not having the weather, so their driving habits stay the same, and you can't do that."
He said dead batteries are an issue, especially for elderly people. When it's snowy or when the temperatures are frigid, "People might go shopping or to church once a week." If the battery is already weak and the car is not being driven, "you will need a jump-start and a possible battery replacement."
"If you drive enough, the alternator charges the battery, which is an accessory," Ostertag said. "If the battery is low because the car is sitting in the cold, it's not being charged to where it should be."
Ostertag's recommendation for all drivers is "just make sure that their car's fluid levels and air pressure are up and that they have a good battery. Don't let the car sit for days on end without starting it."
According to the National Weather Service, it is anticipated that the deep freeze will continue through the weekend and into next week. The highest temperature for the next few days will occur on Saturday, when the predicted high is 16 degrees. The temperature range for New Year's Eve is expected to be from minus-4 to 7 degrees, and on New Year's Day, the National Weather Service has forecast a high of 10 and a nighttime low of minus-4.
According to Accuweather.com, average temperatures at this time of year are highs of 34 and lows of 20.
In addition to cars, equipment that needs to be maintained during the winter includes snow blowers. Pete Marston, owner of Marston Power Equipment Inc., said, "This week, we're probably picking up 10 snowblowers per day for repair, and we're probably delivering 10 per day that are already repaired. We're doing our best to keep them running."
Marston, who sells snowblowers, in addition to servicing them, said that sales have been "pretty good. We had a pretty busy Christmas season."
According to Marston, problems occur because snowblowers sit without being used for long periods of time. He recommends that people check their snowblowers to make sure that they work, preferably before it snows. Other problems occur when snowblowers hit foreign objects. "Be careful about that." In addition, he recommends that people snow blow responsibly. "Don't blow the snow out into the street."
Keeping the roads clear is the town's responsibility. According to Deputy Town Highway Superintendent and Town Highway Superintendent-Elect Dick Crawford, "When we hear that the weather is changing and storms are approaching that have the potential of significant snowfall, we make sure the trucks are all mechanically ready to go and the salt barn is full of salt. So, depending upon the severity of the storm, if it's an ice event, we will send out between two and four salter trucks to salt the major roads. When we get the buildup of an inch or so with more snow forecast, we will send out our eight snowplow trucks. Also, to get ready for the storms, we have safety meetings to discuss proper techniques of driving.
"To plow a full route, which includes long roads and subdivisions, it takes between three and three and a half hours, depending on the amount of snowfall. We have eight snowplow routes. Snowplows are considered emergency vehicles. So, our drivers drive defensively and ask the public to give way," Crawford said.
"The plows are pushing the snow out from the center to the shoulders," he said. "We plow roads to open roads up. The snow goes to the shoulder or to the curved area of the road."
He explained that snow that is plowed from the roads as a result of "normal snow plowing operations" may "be placed in your driveway unavoidably. Plows are angled to the right for plowing from the centerline of the street to the curb."
"During a snow event, we will start plowing and salting routes at 3 a.m.," Crawford said. "This gives us the ability to completely go through all the routes and have the roads passable for school bus transportation and the general workforce."
The cleared roads also help families travel to town facilities that offer winter activities. The Grand Island Parks and Recreation Department offers indoor activities for youth, in addition to the outdoor ice skating rinks. "At this time of year for the youth, we do a youth open gym at Kaegebein Elementary School. This year, we made it a youth-inclusive gym so we include children with disabilities. They work together with children of their own age and they form friendships and just bond. We have fun, too," DeGregorio explained. The town is also planning for a February break activity, which will feature technology-based projects.
"This year, we're also doing two field trips and that will be during February break. They are the ice rink and bowling. The ice rink is on Tacoma Road in north Buffalo. The bowling is on Grand Island (Island Lanes)," DeGregorio said.
Some outdoor activities require functional equipment, such as snowmobiles. Marston said that Marston Power Equipment also provides snowmobile maintenance and repair. An avid snowmobiler, Marston said, "I like to work on the snowmobiles. I do most of the snowmobile work myself." His recommendation to snowmobile owners is to "always service them before you ride them. Be respectful to property owners and stay on the trail."
For people who are looking forward to an end to the cold snap, relief is expected by Jan. 6. According to Accuweather.com, the forecast is for a high of 34 and a low of 17.
With higher temperatures, Grand Island's ice rinks will look more inviting. "Anyone can go out there, put on ice skates, and skate around a bit. I probably wouldn't say go ice skating under 25 degrees but, on days where it is 30 degrees and the ice is frozen, that would be a perfect thing to do with either friends or family," DeGregorio said.
Pete Marston Jr. stands outside of Marston Power Equipment with snowblowers that had been brought in for repair during the wintry blast.