By JAMES CUMMINGS • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – In the darkness of 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1, Angela Christman, South Kortright, got the call she’d been waiting for: Tonight she’d plow the streets of Oneonta.
And she would be the first woman in recent memory – perhaps ever – to do so for the city’s Department of Public Works.
“I was excited and nervous at the same time,” she said. “Nervous because I didn’t know what to expect, having never done it before.”
As the snow piled up overnight, she got up at 1:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 2, to start her West End and River Street route.
“They go over the route and let you know which streets to plow,” she said. “I knew how to plow. It’s not hard. All I needed to know was where to put the snow. But it’s different in all areas.”
With a storm that brought a total of 11 inches of snow to the city, it was the perfect opportunity for Christman to learn the ropes. “It gave me more practice,” she said. “After I did it the first time, I felt accomplished.”
There were some challenges with this storm, however. What was initially expected to be purely snowfall, ended up being a mixture of sleet and rain, followed by snow.
“A first low pressure system came all the way from the Northwest to the Northeast,” said Dave Mattice, Oneonta-based National Weather Service observer. “A layer of warm air was trapped above cold air, which was enough to cause sleet and freezing rain that kept the snow at bay, then a secondary low pulled moisture off of the ocean to create more snow. It was a big storm in terms of the area covered.”
All schools in the county were closed, including both colleges, and OPT bus service was suspended in the evening. Emergencies were declared in the village of Cooperstown and Milford, but not countywide or in the City of Oneonta.
“The challenge of this storm was that it was long-lasting, over 48 hours,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. “While the number of inches is not the largest, it’s one of the longest.”
It could have been worse; the Capital Region received more than 2 feet of snow, prompting an emergency declaration from the Governor’s office.
And with just 10 employees at the Oneonta DPW trained to plow over 40 miles of roads, managing this storm presented some challenges.
“Because it’s drawn out and it’s a long storm, some people put a full 24 hours in,” said DPW Superintendent John Williams. “When they went home, we lost three plow routes. People have to pick up the slack, so they take double routes. The rain also made it difficult because you’re putting salt down, only to plow it off. It’s a vicious cycle,” he said.
But Christman, a 12-year Army veteran who had salted roads before, was up to the task. “Some of it was difficult because of the ice. It will slow you down. It’s not hard, you just have to go slow and pay attention. There’s kids and people shoveling all over the place. You have to be careful,” she said.
The DPW team had to work diligently over the course of two days to keep up with the precipitation. “The crew comes together and does what they need to do to clear the roads and keep people safe,” said Williams.