The big chill; Mother Nature packs one-two punch with snowstorm, bitter cold temps

WORTHINGTON -- While Worthington residents piled on the blankets and quilts for a cold, snowy night, a crew of city employees went to work at 1:30 a.m. Saturday to make the roads safer for motorists.

A glimpse through the rear-view mirror of a snowplow, while clearing snow from Worthington's streets on Saturday morning. (Martina Baca/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON - While Worthington residents piled on the blankets and quilts for a cold, snowy night, a crew of city employees went to work at 1:30 a.m. Saturday to make the roads safer for motorists.

The Friday and Saturday snowstorm dropped between six and 10 inches of snow across portions of southwest Minnesota, leaving in its wake bitterly cold temperatures of minus-20 and greater, with windchills of minus-50 recorded.

Every time a big snow event is approaching the area, the Worthington street department prepares its seven snow plows to go through the city clearing the snow off the roads.

Worthington Public Works Director Todd Wietzema pays close attention to the weather radar as snowstorms hit the region. He rides along with city street crews to decide the best time to start plowing.

Wietzema said they usually begin removing snow at midnight, but the time depends on the weather. Neither him nor the workers are ever certain of their start time, and Saturday was no exception.


“The uncertain hours is the most challenging part of this job,” Wietzema said. “Those guys (snow plow drivers)  knew they would have to plow, but they didn't know when so you try to go to sleep, but you know somebody is going to call.”

Wietzema said primary streets in the city have a priority to be cleared first, such as Oxford Street, Humiston Avenue and Clary Street. Next, they plow the downtown and residential areas, finalizing with the alleys and parking lots as time permits.

“We do all the arterial streets first,” Wietzema said. “We try to open Oxford Street and Ryan’s Road so people can get to the store and stuff like that, but it would be ideal if residents can prepare themselves before the snowstorm arrives.”

Those who drive the snowplows not only have to deal with the snow and a tough schedule, but there are several other aspects that make their job difficult. Drivers who don’t keep a safe distance from the snowplows, and residents not following the odd/even parking requirements, are among the difficulties they have to work with.

“The reason why we start at around 1 a.m. is because we don't have to deal with cars. In the middle of the day it takes twice as long and twice as hard to plow.”

Wietzema said people sometimes fail to keep their distance from the snowplows, which not only makes the job more difficult, but also dangerous for everybody.

“In the city we do a lot of stopping and backing up, so make sure you stay plenty far behind,” Wietzema advises. “They have to be a little patient, just give us some time to back up and turn.”

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) recommends motorists stay at least five car lengths behind the snowplow and as far from the snow cloud as possible.  Wietzema added that the snowplow drivers aren’t able to see what's behind them so that's why it’s so important to keep a safe distance.


Wietzema noted many residents pass on the right side of the snow plows, which not only endangers them, but also the city workers since their machines don’t have the same blind spots as regular vehicles.

“We have big vehicles and we can't necessarily see as much as other cars can, so you can look out for us,” he said.

Wietzema also highlighted the importance of following the odd/even parking restrictions.

“Make sure you are parking at the correct side of the street and then the next night on the opposite side of the street so we can clean where your car was parked,” he said. “If your car is parked in the same spot, not only public safety will give you a ticket, but we can’t get around to clean it up.”

Keith Heidebrink has worked with the city of Worthington as a snowplow driver for more than 10 years. He is one of the workers who drives a snowplow with a wing on the right side of the vehicle. He said that for the most part he enjoys his work, but sometimes it can get frustrating when people don’t follow the odd/even parking ordinance.

“You get a lot of them who are on the wrong side,” Heidebrink said. “Sometimes on both sides of the street and then you have to try to get through them, and a lot of times you don’t fit.”

Another reminder for residents and homeowners is to place their trash cans and recycle bins behind the curb or on the drive way, otherwise they can be displaced by the machines.

“If you set them out on the street we end up having the snow pushing it over,” Wietzema said.


He also said when residents clear their sidewalks, which they have 24 hours to do after a storm ends, to not not place the snow they are removing on the street, but on their property, otherwise the snow plows have to go back to remove that snow.

MnDot reccommends all motorists check road conditions at or call 511 before traveling in a storm. As a new addition to the website, motorists can enter up to 20 routes to see where crashes or construction may slow travel. An app is also available for smartphones and motorists can sign up online to receive information on their phones

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