GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Although the Christmas week blizzard is over, the work for snowplow drivers is far from done.
Still, the Michigan Department of Transportation says highways across southwest Michigan are looking much better than before.
“I know state highways look really good, relatively speaking,” said Nick Schirripa, a spokesperson for MDOT’s southwest district. “We’re not seeing a lot of icing.”
That’s because crews made significant progress on Christmas Eve.
“They really deserve a standing ovation from all of us,” Schirripa said. “They’ve done just a remarkable, remarkable job. I think they’ve really hit it out of the park.”
The blizzard peaked on Friday. With the roads barely visible, it was especially difficult for snowplow drivers.
“In the extreme cold and with high winds, you get a lot of blowing and drifting,” Schirripa said. “There were spots where right after a plow went through, you couldn’t tell within minutes because the snow was drifting so quickly and blowing so quickly.”
Another obstacle: 14 emergency incidents just on I-94 on Friday.
“That pulls those resources tremendously thin,” Schirripa said. “It draws so many people in so many different directions that it becomes really, really difficult to keep up.”
Schirripa said the number of people on the road traveling for the holidays didn’t make things easier. He said he got several calls from maintenance workers on I-94 urging people to stay off the roads.
“It also exacerbated the challenge for our plow operators and for first responders and emergency responders,” he said.
There’s still more to do. Next, they’ll prioritize clearing highways along the lakeshore and the I-94 corridor through Van Buren and Berrien counties. Those are both areas with higher rates of crashes, Schirripa said. They’re doubling up on snowplows for those routes.
But as the bitter cold remains, don’t expect to see salt on the roads just yet.
“It’s just too cold for salt to be effective, and at this point it’s actually counterproductive,” Schirripa said. “It can make the roads worse. So as soon as the salt hits the road, it starts melting whatever snow and ice is on there.”
It could take up to four more days before their job is done, Schirripa said.
“I’d ask folks to continue being patient and remember that there are thousands of people out there working every day in these conditions to keep us safe,” Schirripa said.
Schirripa is asking people to stay off the roads except for essential travel for just a little while longer, saying “the fewer people there are on the roads, the easier it is for our plows to clear those roads.”
“I think it’s safe to ask folks to limit it to essential travel, maybe for the next day or two, at least through today if not tomorrow as well,” Schirripa said. “Seeing the weather warm up a little bit is going to give our plow operators a really good chance to get things where they want to be.”
“If this was any other weekend, we might say stay off the roads altogether,” he added. “But I think at this point we’re asking people to limit their travel to only that which is necessary. And you know, we’re nobody to judge what travel is necessary for people, so they can be their own judge of that.”
Schirripa said he has seen “a lot of gratitude” for people working on the front lines through the storm.
“Really anybody who put themselves in harm’s way over the weekend, working through their holiday weekend in bitter cold conditions to do their jobs and keep folks safe,” Schirripa said.
— Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the name of Nick Schirripa. We regret the error, which has been fixed.