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Posted on Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 10:40 a.m.

Snow causes numerous crashes on Washtenaw County roads; worst is yet to come

By Cindy Heflin


Florian Van Kampen-Wright, 15, smiles as he walks with his mom Dana Wright and sister Lily Wright, 7, all of Ann Arbor, as they climb a sledding hill at Veterans Memorial Park in Ann Arbor Sunday afternoon.

Melanie Maxwell I

A snowstorm that developed in the Rocky Mountains and walloped parts of the upper Midwest with 2 feet of snow had dumped about 2 inches on the Ann Arbor area as of 1 p.m. Sunday. That was enough to cause havoc on Washtenaw County roads, but the worst is yet to come, the National Weather Service says.

About 4 p.m. temperatures will start to drop and winds will pick up, causing blowing and drifting snow and possibly freezing slush on the roadways to ice, said meteorologist Steven Freitag with the National Weather Service in White Lake Township. The Weather Service predicts a total snowfall of 4 to 6 inches and has issued a winter weather advisory until 11 p.m.

Crashes have been occurring all day on highways and secondary roads across the county, a dispatcher with the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department said. She said she was not aware of any serious injuries, however.

The Washtenaw County Road Commission is attacking the storm with its full fleet of salt trucks, said Jim Harmon, director of operations. Falling snow, however, makes it difficult to keep roads clear.

"All 46 of the trucks on the road right now focusing on state highways and paved county primary roads," Harmon said. "They will stay focused on those roads throughout the day."

As the current temperature hovers just above freezing, salt is turning snow on the roads slush and crews are scraping that off the roads on their rounds. By 8 p.m. drivers, who started at 6 a.m., will have put in a 14 -hour day, and a four-truck night crew will take over focusing on interstates and state highways. The Road Commission will monitor conditions overnight. "If the night crew starts to get overwhelmed, we can call people back," he said. He expects to call everyone back at 4 a.m. to get roads in shape for the morning rush hour.

Harmon said this morning that road conditions varied throughout the county. Many were covered with slush and snow. Some had "wheel track" conditions. He advised motorists to slow down and give other drivers, including the Road Commission's trucks plenty of room. "If you don't have to, avoid driving," he said. "If you do have to drive, then drive according to conditions."

About 1 p.m., crews were responding to crashes on westbound M-14 west of Nixon Road, northbound US-23 at North Territorial Road, wesbound I-94 at Baker Road, westbound I-94 east of Zeeb Road and westbound I-94 at US-23, a dispatcher said.


Snow covers the collapsed roof of the Metrodome in Minneapolis on Sunday. The Metrodome's Teflon roof failed about 5 a.m. Sunday after a blizzard dumped more than 17 inches of snow on the area Saturday.

AP photo

The National Weather Service says says weather conditions will deteriorate as the day wears on. The heaviest snow period is likely to come between 4 and 8 p.m. this evening, said Freitag.

Bitter cold will move into the area later today and the wind will start to blow. Wind gusts of up to 40 mph are expected tonight and early Monday morning. Lows of 7 to 11 degrees are expected overnight. That could inhibit the ability of salt to melt the snow if ground and pavement temperatures fall too much, Harmon said. If that happens, the Road Commission will likely switch to a mix of salt and sand to help provide traction on the roads.

Southeast Michigan, however, is escaping the worst of the winter storm. The inflatable roof of the Metrodrome sports arena in Minneapolis collapsed after the storm dumped 17 inches on that city. A blizzard warning was in effect for Chicago and much of northern Illinois, all of Iowa, large sections of southern Minnesota and Wisconsin, and smaller areas in North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri and parts of Michigan, according to the National Weather Service. Snowfall totaled 2 feet in some areas. Northern Indiana was and parts of southwest Michigan were expected to get 16 to 20 inches of snow.

For current forecasts, check's weather page.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.



Mon, Dec 13, 2010 : 2:31 p.m.

With 46 pieces of road clearing equipment available, why operate only four pieces at night? Wouldn't it be far more efficient to operate all 46 pieces at night when there is significantly less other traffic, and roads would then be clear for commuters and school busses in the morning?


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 5:57 p.m.

@ Ed: according to your link, the main difference between a Winter Weather Advisory and Winter Storm Warning is the severity of is "occurring, imminent or likely" The advisory: "... is an inconvenience. " While a WSW "... is a threat to life and property. " And for what it's worth, the National Weather Service "upgraded" us from a Winter Weather Advisory to a "Winter Storm Warning" a few hours ago (around 3:53PM)-


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 5:51 p.m.

I got in my first crash in 10 years today courtesy of a Escalade-wielding "commercial driver" from out of town who didn't bother to slow or stop before cutting out onto Warren 20 feet in front of me from a driveway. Luckily for him I was only going about 25 in a 50 mph zone. Unfortunately, as others have mentioned, 4WD isn't magic and there's no good way to stop a ton of light SUV on a dime on slick roads. I have to give the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department some credit for good handling of accidents though because even though it took them a small eternity to get to the scene (probably because of other accidents), the officer sized up the situation accurately despite the relatively large fish tales being told my by co-crashee and made the process somewhat less painful than I imagine it could have been.

Joan Lowenstein

Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 4:37 p.m.

Cindy, can you remind us what the meaning is of the various weather warnings? For example, is a winter snow warning worse than a winter snow advisory or the other way around?


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 4:26 p.m.

Studded tires can be quite helpful in weather like this. Most states allow studded tires, and have lower weight limits; MI allows overweight trucks but disallows a proven safety tool like tire studs. Our roads would not be their silky smooth selves with studded tires...not.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 4:01 p.m.

Snow is not to blame...Lousy drivers are to blame...Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!!!!!!!!


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 3:13 p.m.

I want to know where they got the sock monkey hat. I know someone who would love to have one


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 2:40 p.m.

Get a spare set of wheels and put snow tires on them for winter. You'll get more wear from your regular tires and winter will be safer driving. Don't let it fool you, just like AWD and ABS snow tires can help but you can get over confident and push beyond driving limits which will negate any benefit.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 2:28 p.m.

I'm also interested in knowing how many trucks (plows and salt trucks) the city has. In the 25 years I've lived in A2, I must say that the snow removal on city streets is poor compared to other parts of the country in the snow belt. Can someone post how many trucks the city has and when they are deployed? They were certainly not around at all this past Friday morning at 7:30 am. I'm not going out today to find out.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 2:23 p.m.

So the county operates 46 trucks during the day and 4 at night. Good to know. Does anyone know how many the city of Ann Arbor operates during the day and at night? Also, does anyone know how many lane-miles of road the city and county plow?


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 2 p.m.

I have shovelled 3" already. I'll shovel again before 4 pm. The snow is wet and heavy. Keep it off your driveway and try to clear it before the temperature dips and it gets icy. If I leave my car outside, I try to clear the wet snow from my windows too, before the freezing comes, otherwise you get that "POWER ICE" on your windows that is impossible to clear. Then you will have fun. Hopefully drivers have filled their gas tanks, charged their cell phones, put a snow brush and scaper in their cars. Always a good idea to have a spare set of boots, blanket too. Good luck and safe driving to everyone.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 1:41 p.m.

now's a good time 2 shop 4 sno tires


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 1:15 p.m.

With the economy being what it is, I am certain many folks are driving around in vehicles that are poorly maintained and have tires not up to the task. Got my first ever set of snow tires ( always thought all-season tires were fine) last week just before driving to Oshkosh WI and back in one day. Snowed the entire 425 miles from Oshkosh to A2. While others were going 30-40 mph, I was able to average 50 with the snow tires as my car felt like it was on rails and not sliding around. No more "white knuckle" driving, except for looking out for the other guy. I just ordered a set for my wifes car because I want her safe as can be. Expensive yes but worth it for certain.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 1:14 p.m.

We have a great deal of new and transplant drivers each and every year that have never ever driven in let alone even seen snow. Washtenaw is an atypical Michigan county in this respect so BE ALERT and leave plenty of room so you can watch, but not participate in, the ensuing crashes.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 12:35 p.m.

@psyctrip: They'd budget for having as much snow as Buffalo, and our taxes would go up accordingly.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 12:33 p.m.

I'm with Hunterjim, if drivers do not adapt to the conditions there will be accidents simply because the road isn't dry and 80 degrees. People need to: 1. Adapt your driving to the conditions. The same people having accidents are the ones who refuse to slow down for heavy rain storms. 2. Maintain their vehicles, you are in MI which means you need to have decent tires on your vehicle.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 11:22 a.m.

Snow does not cause car crashes. Poor driving habits cause crashes. Slow down, give yourself more space and arrive alive.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 10:53 a.m.

It's more than half an inch now in Saline. I'm sure at least part of the reason for the crashes is that this is one of the first snowfalls of the year, and people aren't used to driving on it.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 10:35 a.m.

A half inch to an inch is causing all this mess? Are you kidding me? How would the county handle this if they had as much snow as Buffalo? This is a joke.