WILLMAR -- With nearly a week's warning of a potentially dangerous Christmas storm brewing, public works crews said Wednesday they are prepared for whatever snow hits the area.
Piles of sand and salt are in good supply and snowplow operators have been told to be ready to report to duty to clear city, county and state roads.
But because of the size of the storm, and that it may hit during a heavy-travel holiday, keeping the roads clear will be a challenge.
"I can't imagine a worse time to have a major snowstorm," said Gary Danielson, Kandiyohi County Public Works director.
Holiday plans for county public works employees are "pretty much kaput," he said. "They'll have to be out on the roads. We don't have any spare drivers."
Diane Beck, public affairs director for the Minnesota Department of Transportation's District 8 headquarters in Willmar, said the state will have a full crew on duty and will do its best to keep roads open.
But if visibility reaches zero, snow drifts are too high for plows to get through and conditions reach a point where there's a chance of "endangering our employees," then plows could be pulled and segments of the state highway system could be closed to the public, she said, emphasizing that people need to heed travel advisories.
Information about state road conditions is available by calling 511 or by going to the Web site: 511mn.org. Both information outlets will have up-to-date information as weather and road conditions change.
Ron Gilbertson, Willmar public works superintendent, said city residents could help the snow removal process by getting cars off the streets even before the snow starts to accumulate.
Plowing around parked cars creates traffic hazards and can double or triple the work of plow operators who have to repeat routes after cars are moved.
Gilbertson and Willmar City Engineer Mel Odens drafted a plan of action Wednesday for how to handle staffing and priority concerns.
In that memo, they warned residents not to expect all streets to be cleaned right away. Main thoroughfares like First Street and Willmar Avenue will be the first to get attention. Parking lots likely won't be cleared until there's a break in the snow. Clearing off ice rinks was listed as a "low priority."
City crews will likely operate from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then return for a late afternoon shift. MnDOT will be running 10- to 12-hour shifts, depending on weather conditions.
In terms of getting snow off the roads, this storm has the potential to be costly.
Because over-time hours start at noon on Christmas Eve and run through Sunday, it could cost $20,000 to $25,000 a day just for county roads, said Danielson. If the storm last three or four days the total bill will be "pretty nasty."
Beck said drivers can improve travel safety by keeping their headlights on, the cruise control off and by not passing snow plows.
There is always the possibility the storm won't materialize, but Danielson said everyone is preparing to confront what is being predicted. "If it's not that bad, we won't complain."