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County enters month with snow warning

Photo by Eric Tichy Snow plows are pictured Monday afternoon at the Chautauqua County Department of Public Facilities location in Falconer. The region is under a winter storm warning through Wednesday, with up to a foot of snow possible.

Chautauqua County is poised to enter December on a somewhat fitting note.

The entire county, along with Cattaraugus and southern Erie counties, is under a winter storm warning in effect through Wednesday afternoon. According to the National Weather Service in Buffalo, the heaviest snowfall is expected between this afternoon and Wednesday morning. The area could see between 8 to 15 inches of snow, with the greatest amounts along the Chautauqua Ridge.

Wind gusts reaching 35 mph are possible as well, the weather service said.

“Travel could be very difficult,” the weather service said in its warning. The hazardous conditions could impact the morning or evening commute. … Widespread accumulating snow will create dangerous travel conditions.”

Though portions of southern Chautauqua County briefly received some accumulation in the last month, this week’s snowfall is expected to be the first significant amount of the year. Additional snow showers are set to return Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

In the city of Dunkirk, Director of Public Works Randy Woodbury said salt supplies are set and noted that the entire fleet of plows are ready for use.

“I’m sending the employees home to get some sleep at their regular time and then they’ll be coming in at 2 a.m.,” Woodbury said Monday. “The temperatures are supposed to be above freezing, but there are some reports of fluffy stuff too.”

Asked about any potential issues at the lake, Woodbury replied that “there are always some things that can go wrong and things can be unpredictable. … The mayor right now is trying to watch overtime in the city. But you just never know what’s going to happen.”

The city has also hired a couple pf new employees that are starting next week. “Everyone in the city knows what we’re up against, so I know they’ll do a good job of getting things done,” he said.

Brad Bentley, Chautauqua County public facilities director, said plow crews totaling about 70 drivers are ready to tackle snow-covered county roads. Preparation for winter, he said, is almost a year-round effort.

“Each year we get ready for winter pretty much after winter ends,” Bentley said Monday afternoon while overlooking plow trucks at the county’s facility in Falconer. “We check our salt supplies, we get our trucks and everything taken off. We start taking off the plows and servicing the trucks for the winter. Usually we have to do maintenance on the plows.”

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In an average year, the county Department of Public Facilities will go through 30,000 tons of salt on 550 miles of county maintained roads. The material is kept at salt barns in Falconer, Sherman, Sheridan and Stockton.

“We almost always start the winter full of salt and then we’ll have to resupply salt depending on how the weather is,” said Bentley, noting that last year crews had to deal with a lot of ice and slush on the roads as compared to normal plowing efforts.

And unlike some operations that have been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Bentley doesn’t foresee any issues when it comes to keeping roads cleared this year.

“For our winter operations we’re kind of pre-set up for COVID, if you will,” he said. “Our employees are in a truck. When they get out of a truck they clean it for the next shift. They’re all individuals and they’re by themselves. We’re kind of naturally social distanced, so it’s good for the set up of the operation.”

In preparation for the first significant snowfall of the season, the New York State Police issued a reminder to motorists to “exercise due care over the next few days.”

Troopers will be out across the region checking all major routes of travel to ensure that motorists are as safe as possible. “The State Police need your assistance to make this possible,” the NYSP said in a news release. “Motorists traveling in areas impacted by the snow are asked to leave with extra time to make a slow and careful drive to your destination. Take into consideration snow accumulation on the roads, the current snowfall rate, the wind, and visibility. Use your best judgment to determine if driving is prudent.”

The state police issued the following tips:

¯ always clean windows and mirrors fully of any snow and ice before driving;

¯ keep a full tank of gas;

¯ use headlights at all times to increase visibility to others; if windshield wipers are in use due to weather, headlights must be on;

¯ drive prudently. If the conditions are adverse, decrease speed accordingly; and

¯ if driving isn’t absolutely necessary, don’t go out.

According to AAA, about 46% of crashes involving bad weather take place in the winter, making this the worst time of year for driving in treacherous conditions.

“As we get our first dose of winter weather, motorists should prepare their cars and pack an emergency roadside kit complete with a cell phone charger or power bank. It’s important to use winter driving skills as slick roads create dangerous situations,” said Elizabeth Carey, public relations director at AAA WCNY. “During storm conditions, AAA will prioritize emergencies when responding to service calls. We urge all drivers to obey all travel advisories and use caution when traveling.”

Jo Ward in Dunkirk contributed to this story.

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