Omaha 1, Snow 0
Whenever Benson gets dumped on with snow, the plows come through and pile it into the center of Maple, where it stays for a few days after the storm. Then, it disappears.
Where does it go? That’s easy enough to figure out. Take a drive by 11th and Locust, and you can view Omaha’s lone mountain peak. Just remember—the mountain is just a seasonal attraction.
Omaha might not have any real mountains, but it does have its fair share of flowing hills. In Benson, with the exception of the Maple strip, there is not a flat stretch of road in the community. Hills are not a problem until they are mixed with snow and drivers.
But how many times are people out on the snowy roads asking themselves, “Where are the snowplows?” The winter of 2009–2010 was enough to send most people into spiraling nightmares in which they were swallowed up by blizzards and abominable snowdrifts. This current winter has been a welcome reprieve—so far.
Still, there have been a few heavy snowstorms, and the nemesis of winter driving has a good two months of mayhem left up his sleeves before spring comes with peace offerings of bright flowers and cool rains. The gracious men and women who operate Omaha’s snow assault force have not made peace with winter just yet. At the first hint of a storm, they get suited up to fight icy, dangerous road conditions.
Why then, if these hard working snowplowers are always on call, ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice, do the local drivers feel so impatient for the streets to be cleared? Sure, the snow is a nuisance. And yes, it makes for difficult driving.
But before complaining about how quickly the roads are cleared, Omahans should take a moment to consider the hard work that goes into keeping one tiny strip of thoroughfare clean for driving conditions. The preparedness and coordination that goes into a single snowstorm is a feat in its own right.
It takes a powerful offense to fight the snowy streets, and it’s led by the plow trucks. Each mammoth, orange beast is specially equipped with a ten-foot-wide plow blade, the base of which is covered with a spring-loaded, hardened steel cover. The cover makes flush contact with the pavement, removing the snow from major streets while its spring-loaded action prevents manhole covers from being shorn away. The conditions that these blades operate under are so abrasive that the steel blade cover has to be replaced after just twenty-four hours of use.
Each plow truck also carries a load of dry salt (or a mix of sand and salt), as well as a small 150-gallon brine tank, which is used to wet the salt before being applied to the roads. Salt that is already dissolved or partially dissolved works better as a deicer than dry salt. As the driver courses down the street, he controls the flow of salt that is dropped on the road. To complement the work of the plow trucks, Omaha employs a battalion of brine-only trucks (with much larger tanks—up to 1000 gallons) and snow blowers.
None of these vehicles is easy to operate. It is the drivers who truly make the whole system run smoothly. One look at the control panel used to regulate salt application on a plow truck, and winter civilians will realize there is more to plowing than driving up and down streets.
Last year, the snow made a good showing. Omaha was underprepared and slightly embarrassed. This year, the city responded with a serious rebuttal, reminding winter who was boss. The number of residential contractors hired for snow removal has been doubled.
So the next time you see those orange, four-wheeled, big-mouthed beasts lumbering down Dodge or Maple, tip your cap or give them a wave. There is more to plowing than meets the eye. From brine-tank valves to spring-loaded steel blades on plows that save manhole covers, the ingenuity of the technology on these trucks is at least half as impressive as the crew that operates them.