Finger on the Weather

Wichita street crews preparing for winter weather; city launches snowplow tracking site

A downtown Wichita pedestrian takes cover from a late Wednesday afternoon snowfall that produced large flakes and quickly accumulated on streets and cars.
A downtown Wichita pedestrian takes cover from a late Wednesday afternoon snowfall that produced large flakes and quickly accumulated on streets and cars. The Wichita Eagle

Whenever it snows, Wichita residents will be able to tell which streets have been plowed and where the city’s snowplows are working.

The city equipped 50 trucks with snowplows and GPS systems and set up a website – – for residents to follow their progress.

The city announced the system Wednesday as the National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory. City crews began covering the main arterial streets with a salt brine mix to help keep the streets from freezing. The brine solution helps loosen ice and snow on roads.

One hundred city truck drivers were put on standby to work 12-hour shifts if accumulation occurs.

Roughly 1.9 inches of snow had fallen at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport by 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, said Mick McGuire, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita. Light snow showers, possibly mixed with freezing drizzle, were expected to persist overnight, with temperatures hanging around 31 degrees, he said – leaving Wichita with a chance of slick driving conditions Thursday morning.

“Weather models show rain and snow mix coming in,” Alan King, director of public works and utilities, said earlier Wednesday. “This is something we will have to respond to take some steps to mitigate travel conditions. We will have our 50 plows out when there is snow to plow.”

The interactive website shows which streets and areas have been treated and are being plowed. The map will be brought up on the website only if it snows, King said.

“This is the kind of information we can provide to citizens who are making trips and which roads and streets are best and safe to be used,” King said.

“If you bring up this Web page, see in your neighborhood a road you are planning on traveling, have there been snowplows on that road? You can see the trail of when those trucks have been there.”

By clicking on the colored dots, the viewer can see the status of a truck – red means it is stopped, engine off; yellow means engine is idling; green indicates a truck is moving – how fast it is going and its location.

“We are hoping this kind of information gives folks another tool in what the city is doing and will be useful in traveling the city’s streets and roads,” King said.

It typically takes about 24 hours for snowplows to travel 5,000 miles of priority routes, he said.

Wichita has about 16,000 tons of salt mix available to use to help clear streets, King said. The city doubled its supply of available salt mix this past year. The city uses about 32,000 tons during the winter and is resupplied when needed.

By 9 p.m. Thursday, Sedgwick County emergency dispatch personnel had received an estimated 75 calls of noninjury accidents and 32 calls of injury accidents, most due to the weather. About another 40 were unknown types of accidents, the dispatcher said, and may duplicate other calls.

With light rain and freezing drizzle in the forecast, some feared Thursday morning’s commute could be slick in spots. Given the weather, the Emergency Accident Reporting Plan, enacted Wednesday afternoon after snowfall began, could remain in effect until Thursday morning, the dispatcher said.

McGuire, the weather service meteorologist, said freezing drizzle and below-freezing temperatures likely will continue through Thursday’s morning commute before the high again creeps into the mid-30s.

“Untreated and elevated services with temperatures right around freezing – those are usually the first areas that get slick,” McGuire said.

“As far as (road) surfaces that get treated, I don’t think we’ll see too many problems.”

Warmer temperatures are expected on Friday and through the weekend, forecasters say, with highs climbing near 50 by Sunday.

Contributing: Amy Renee Leiker of The Eagle

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or Follow him on Twitter: @StanFinger.

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