Photo by Giana Reno – South Walnut Street at 4 p.m. Feb. 18.
Lately, the snow days have turned into a week-long traffic struggle. West Chester saw its third snow emergency of the 2021 winter season this past week. This year it seems that the snowfall has become especially debilitating. Snowfall started around 4 a.m. on Feb. 18 and didn’t stop until well into the morning, with weather forecasts predicting more to come. While a snow emergency wasn’t declared by the West Chester Borough until noon that same day, roads piled up with more and more snow. Sleet and hail were in the mix too, creating dangerous road conditions. Roads frequently used by students, like South Walnut Street, Gay Street and Market Street, remained unplowed and unsalted for most of the day. By 4 p.m. on Feb. 18, the streets were compacted with so much snow/slush that there was hardly any traction for a non-snow-conditioned vehicle to navigate.
South Walnut Street at 4 p.m. Feb. 18.
Cierra Peterlin, a senior nutrition studies major at West Chester, had to drive to work at 6:30 a.m. As a Nutritional Host at Chester County Hospital, her commute is one of many early morning commutes that remain necessary regardless of snow. Peterlin recalls the road conditions: “There were at least a couple inches of snow on the ground. Nothing was salted or plowed, and I even saw a few snow-plows parked on the side of 202 not doing anything.”
West Chester’s Department of Public Works is responsible for dealing with snow and ice. Their anti-icing policy states that 24 hours before the snow is predicted to fall, the roads will be brined to combat freezing conditions. This act of brining the roads is critical to ensuring less black ice and compacted snow conditions. Brine typically works in temperatures above 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
The more I talked to students, the more it seemed that no one remembers any salting of the streets of West Chester. Either we are all having a lapse in memory, or the township hasn’t been keeping up with their anti-icing policy of 2004.
Even in vehicles with four-wheel-drive, the roads are less than ideal for driving. Bridget Pyott, a business studies major at WCU, also had issues driving in the snow in her Jeep Grand Cherokee. On her commute to nanny in the borough, she experienced compacted snow that left her with no traction. Even the roads that were considered plowed were slushy enough that any other car would have been spinning out.
The weather advisory was issued as minor severity at 3:30 a.m., Feb. 18, then reissued as moderate at 1:24 p.m. that same day as snowfall increased. The weather conditions themselves may not have been considered dangerous, but the build-up on the roads is the real threat. The Federal Highway Administration reports that snow and sleet-related car crashes make up an average of over 219 thousand crashes per year in the United States. This is roughly 18% of weather-related crashes.
The Director of Public Works, Alberto Vennettilli, explained that the Public Works staff that is responsible for clearing the roads is made up of around 30 employees. This same staff of 30 people is also responsible for a multitude of other tasks, including street lights, waste collection, curb painting, parks and playgrounds and street sweeping. West Chester has seen a 51% increase in snowfall this year. This increase in snowfall in the colder weather means unprecedented struggles when it comes to clearing roads. While the anti-icing program checks out regarding effectiveness in certain conditions, there are a few holes in the reliability. With temperatures that are predicted to drop below 18 degrees, the brined roads can still fall victim to black ice. The roads that didn’t receive any brining will continue to be compacted and frozen for days in these conditions. Compacted snow in any conditions will result in thick layers of ice as well.
Enright Asphalt explains brining and its effectiveness and even offers further solutions when the brine isn’t enough. Options like sanding the road for better traction are effective and can be even cheaper than some salting methods. This could be something the borough considers in the future to keep the community safe in the snowy conditions.
As the West Chester Borough navigates how to better treat the harsher conditions of 2021, students still need to navigate the streets and stay safe. The Department of Motor Vehicles has recommendations for people who still have to commute in wintery weather. This includes keeping salt, sand or gravel in your car for better traction in a sticky situation, as well as a shovel and ice scraper. Kitty litter is another way for people to get traction in the ice. During the last snowstorm, I found myself needing some Tidy Cat, and the High Street 7-Eleven employee had to turn me away because they had sold out earlier that day. The snow season isn’t over, and if we’ve learned anything from the past three snow emergencies, it’s that students need to take some safety matters into their own hands.
Giana Reno is a fourth-year Communications major with a minor in Journalism. GR890947@wcupa.edu