Long-awaited thaw coming, but don't put those boots away

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 13, 2014 - 5:33 AM

A tenacious and frigid winter may be giving way to a messy urban “mud season.”

Temperatures above freezing and perhaps even some rain in the next few days might seem like sweet release from this winter’s cold and snowy shackles.

But it could be unpleasant. Or just plain ugly.

Streets narrowed for weeks by ever-growing snow piles could be converted into icy ponds, while a thaw is expected to bring along its bratty little friend — potholes. Windshield washer fluid will be precious. Nighttime ice could be treacherous.

Minneapolis street maintenance superintendent Mike Kennedy said the slight hint of spring will bring “kind of the worst-case scenario,” prompting the need to clear catch basins of a winter’s worth of ice and snow, to patch and repatch emerging potholes, and to be ready to plow any new snow.

Rain this time of year, St. Paul public works spokesman Dave Hunt added, “is the dread for any public works agency,” because it’s often followed by a freeze-up that can leave streets in even worse shape than they are now.

Highs near freezing Thursday are coming on the heels of the most winter days with lows below zero in more than 30 years. After a low near zero Friday and a cool weekend, Presidents’ Day will bring rain, snow (and maybe sun) and a high of 36, according to the National Weather Service. AccuWeather — more willing to publish forecasts six or more days out — foresees a high of 42 next Thursday.

The change in the weather could forestall citywide one-side parking restrictions in Minneapolis, needed to cope with side streets and even some thoroughfares that can hardly accommodate two-way traffic.

“We’re very close,” Kennedy said, adding he’s been strategizing with the Fire Department and Metro Transit.

Pothole patrol

For now, Minneapolis street crews have been posting temporary one-side bans along busy bus routes and at busy commercial corners. Signs announcing the restrictions are usually on wooden sticks jabbed into icy snow piles. One, posted along 13th Avenue S. on Tuesday, was stapled to a telephone pole perhaps 8 feet off the ground — above a snow pile at least 6 feet tall.

A recent letup in snowfalls has allowed crews to work on clearing piles out of intersections and widening streets and parking lanes, Kennedy and Hunt said.

Also, workers will continue to patch potholes as they form — and as drivers report them — with a temporary “cold mix” until early March, when St. Paul’s hot mix asphalt plant opens. That plant supplies permanent patching material to numerous regional cities, including Minneapolis.

While the snow now blanketing the landscape may look prodigious, accumulations across Minnesota have been about average, noted Steve Buan, a hydrologist with the North Central River Forecast Center.

Duluth, for example, which received 23 inches of snow in a single, lingering storm Dec. 2-4, had seen slightly below-normal snowfall for the season through Tuesday.

Low chances of serious floods

As a result, the agency is indicating low chances of serious flooding through April 27 along regional rivers. Of course, spring or later winter rains could change that, Buan noted. “We’re going to have to wait and see what spring is going to do,” he said.

The agency’s next spring flooding outlook will be released Feb. 21.

At Bloomington’s Richardson Nature Center, naturalist Kimi Aisawa said she’d prefer that winter stick around so she could continue skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.

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    WEds THurs Fri Sat Sun Mon Tue Weds THurs

    National Weather Service 20 33 16 24 29 36 33 NA NA

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