WATERVILLE — As December’s colder-than-usual temperatures have given way to January’s bitter start, the abundance of snow, ice and cold has hampered Waterville Public Works snow removal and caused several minor vehicle accidents.
A minor two-car head-on collision on Main Street was one of about two dozen weather-related area accidents Friday morning as nearly 6 inches of fresh snow combined with bone-chilling below zero temperatures.
In addition to accidents, poor road conditions have caused travel delays. Close to a dozen cars couldn’t make it up the slick ramp from Kennedy Memorial Drive to Interstate 95 northbound early Friday morning until a city public works crew arrived to plow and treat it.
The onslaught of snow and cold has delayed snow removal in Waterville, as the department posted on the city’s website on Thursday that sidewalk and intersection snow removal was behind schedule in certain areas.
“We’ve had so many snow storms recently that we can’t find the man-power to remove it all quickly,” said Mark Turner, Waterville public works director.
In addition to the time off for the holidays, public works crews double up garbage pickup the day after Christmas and New Year’s Day, which reduces the number available to work on snow removal, Turner said.
“After each holiday we’ve had a storm, so it’s been difficult getting essential roads cleared and school zone sidewalks cleared off,” he said. “The other issue is the recent ice storm froze everything up, trying to plow through the sidewalks is almost like cutting through a pile of rocks or boulders.”
More than 5 inches of snow fell in the area on Friday, coupled with sub-zero temperatures, as it got to minus-9 degrees in Waterville early Friday morning.
Much of the snow and ice on the ground arrived during a colder-than-usual December, with an average temperature in Waterville of 19.4 degrees, over 6 degrees colder than the 30-year average of 25.6 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. The coldest Waterville got in December was minus-15 degrees on Dec. 17.
The combination of heavy snowfall followed by sub-zero temperatures make melting tools, such as rock salt, almost obsolete, Turner said.
“Rock salt doesn’t have much affect in melting at these temperatures, because whatever it melts will just freeze back up in the short term,” Turner said, adding that because a lot of the road treatment has been done with sand, public works have gone through about half of its sand supply though it’s only a quarter of the way through the winter.
“We started dealing with winter conditions two days before Thanksgiving and we haven’t stopped,” he said.
While the public works department has used more of its products than it would’ve hoped, Turner is hoping for a milder January and February, but would settle for a couple of calmer weeks.
So far, he won’t get that. Saturday and Sunday are expected to be warmer, but Tuesday is forecast to be in the single digits and Wednesday in the teens.
Blowing snow was also a problem Friday morning, according to a dispatcher at the Somerset County Regional Communications Center. More than a dozen accidents, but no injuries, were reported including a half-dozen in Skowhegan. In Madison, cars were reported off Route 148, the dispatcher said. There also were minor accidents in Fairfield, Solon and Interstate 95 in Palmyra.
In Skowhegan, Road Commissioner Greg Dore said the biggest problem clearing the roads Friday was equipment breaking because of the cold.
“The guys are holding their own,” Dore said of keeping up with the snow, ice and drifting. “We’re having some issues with equipment breaking because everything’s frozen solid, but we’re trying to keep up with it.”
Dore said the department already has gone through about a third of its winter sand and salt allotment for the season, with three months left to go before spring.
“It’s definitely colder than what we’re used to,” he said. “We typically don’t see below zero temperatures until February.”
While January is off to a frigid start — the average temperature so far has been -3.2 degrees according to the National Weather Service — there should be some relief on the way, as weekend temperatures are going to steadily rise. Saturday looks to be dry with temperatures in the upper teens and low 20s, according to Nikki Becker, a meteorologist for the weather service in Gray.
On Sunday, temperatures are going to climb into the low 30s with some precipitation moving in during the afternoon. Depending on the temperature, there could be a combination of rain, snow or a wintry mix Sunday evening. Monday is forecast to be wet but warmer, with temperatures reaching the low- to mid-40s as rain falls throughout the day.
But Tuesday’s high is forecast to be 12, with a possible low of minus-2.
At least seven accidents were reported by 9 a.m. Friday morning in the Waterville and Winslow areas.
The one on Waterville’s Main Street near the Edwards Street intersection happened when a woman driving a 2007 Ford Escape swerved to avoid a rear-end collision and crashed into an oncoming 2012 Suzuki, according to Deputy Chief Charles Rumsey of the Waterville Police Department. Neither driver was injured, but both cars were towed from the scene, Rumsey said. Traffic was backed up on Main Street in the aftermath of the accident, which was weather related, Rumsey said.
Minor car accidents are more common in bad weather and people need to take more caution when driving in poor conditions, according to Rumsey. Each weather-related accident could have been avoided, Rumsey said, if the drivers took more precaution.
“Folks need to remember that when it’s slippery and snowing that you need to reduce your speed and keep extra room between the vehicle in front of you,” he said. “That way, if you need to suddenly stop, you’ll be able to do so.”
Staff writer Doug Harlow contributed to this report.
Jesse Scardina — 861-9239