GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Snowplow drivers continue working hard to clear the roads as a historic blizzard hits West Michigan.
News 8 caught a ride with Grand Rapids snowplow veteran Mike Spannagel on Saturday afternoon as snow continued to fall.
Spannagel, who has worked for the Grand Rapids Department of Public Works for five years, said he has been working 12-hour shifts since March 12.
“That’s since the last snow event that we had,” Spannagel said. “But we are really teaming up together and making this work.”
He said the storm “came out of nowhere for us.”
“It’s not the worst we’ve had … but it came so fast and almost unexpected,” Spannagel said. “We had a couple days’ notice to get everything ready, front plows on.”
Clearing the roads during this blizzard is a challenge that drives him.
“The most exciting part about this, honestly, is serving the city,” he said. “That’s why we’re here. To serve the public.”
Spannagel he said the storm put up a fight Friday with visibility only up to 30 feet in front of his snowplow. He was in charge of clearing Fulton Street between Division Avenue all the way to city limits.
“We do live in Michigan,” Spannagel quipped. But he admitted, “Friday was a different animal.”
“Came down a lot heavier,” he said. “Just couldn’t really keep up. Just tried to make a path through the snow and make it work.”
The wind made things even worse. As soon as he cleared a path, snow would cover it again.
“As you got out to the open areas, that’s when drivers need to be careful,” Spannagel said. “You get out to those open areas where the buildings aren’t, the wind can just wreak havoc.”
But cars parked on the street blocked his path along the way. Spannagel said it’s been difficult to plow side streets because he can’t clear the road if cars are parked on both sides.
“We’ve been honking our horns trying to get people to come out and move their cars real quick,” he said.
That’s why the city has seasonal parking restrictions for certain marked streets.
On odd dates between 1 a.m. and 6 p.m., you’re supposed to park on the side of the street with odd addresses. On even dates between 1 a.m. and 6 p.m., you’re asked to park on the side with even addresses. The city said you are only allowed to park on both sides between 6 p.m. and 1 a.m.
Spannagel said following the restrictions can make a huge difference.
“We can get that other side, and everything’s perfect and clean and out of everyone’s way,” he said. “Even if you’re parked too far away from the curb, if there’s not another car on the other side of the road, we still can get through,” he added. “We still will.”
If you see a snowplow out there, Spannagel asked to give them some space and slow down because an accident is the last thing they need. He also asked the community not to travel yet unless it’s necessary, because fewer cars on the road makes it easier to get the job done quicker.
“We do ask you to limit your travel to just essential travel, just to stay off the roads so we can get it cleared, and then the next day you can go on your way.”
The city was briefly short on snowplows earlier Saturday morning.
“If you go and hit one of these trucks and take that truck out of commission … never know when your road’s gonna get done until we get another truck out there,” Spannagel said.
When the snow eventually stops, their work is far from over. Cleanup begins, and they finally start pouring salt on the roads.
“We’re not throwing any salt right now,” he said. “It’s actually better to drive on snow-packed roads because if we throw salt, it melts. Now it’s so cold that it’s just gonna refreeze. Now it creates just ice, a thick layer of ice that no one wants to deal with.”
Even though the work hasn’t been easy, he says it’s an honor and a privilege.
“I actually get an enjoyment out of it,” Spannagel said. “It’s nice being able to serve the community and make sure that it’s safe, that you can get to your Christmas party, or you can get to the grocery store before the power goes out.”