February 1, 2011

City manager on road with plow crews

City Manager Sean Stegall posted this image
of city plows to Facebook while on the job
with city snow command crews late Tuesday.
Published Feb. 1, 2011
This first story was updated more than 30 times over the course of its first 12 hours online. In large part, the number of updates reflects the ingenuity of the city manager, who used his smartphones and computer tablet to update residents via city Facebook and Twitter accounts, demonstrating the relevance and effectiveness of social media when news is developing.

By Ted Schnell • BocaJump
Schools, government offices and even some businesses closed earlier than usual on Tuesday afternoon as they buckled down in preparation for a monster snowstorm that one city official described as potentially extraordinary.

City plows were out in force as the snowfall intensified.

Early Monday evening, Mayor Ed Schock declared a state of emergency, setting the framework for city officials to do what is needed to combat the storm.

Forecasters say the massive storm system is expected to leave a blanket snow 12 to 24 inches deep stretching from Texas to Maine. Locally, officials expect Elgin will receive 12 inches of snow; forecasters say accumulations will be greater closer to Lake Michigan.

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for northern Illinois at 3 p.m. Tuesday that was set to expire at 3 p.m. Wednesday. Blizzard warnings also were issued for parts of eight other states.

In declaring the state of emergency, Mayor Schock conferred authority to City Manager Sean Stegall to do what is deemed critical to support the city's emergency response effort.

“We may proactively close roads depending upon conditions and circumstances,” Stegall said. “We may need to barricade streets and prohibit cars and pedestrian traffic in certain areas.”

According to a city release, the city manager is also authorized to procure goods, services and equipment needed to facilitate the city’s emergency response.

A limited activation of the city of Elgin’s Emergency Operations Center also has been initiated, the city release stated. This limited activation allows for public works, police and fire to immediately respond to the weather emergency in the best interests of Elgin residents.

City 'throwing everything' at storm
 Later the in evening, the city manager began "tweeting" details and posting comments to Facebook about the city's response to the emergency as he began a ride-along for the night with city snow command crews, even posting photos from time to time.

By about 7:30 p.m., Stegall reported there were 38 trucks out clearing city streets, That, he said, was about 16 more than during an average snow event. "More simply put," he wrote, "we are throwing everything at mother nature."

By about 8 p.m., Stegaall reported that the roads were becoming increasingly dangerous. He also advised that there had been no power outages reported by ComEd in Elgin about that time, although he said the city is expecting to see outages at some point from storm.

Still, the blizzard's fury was making itself felt. About 9 p.m., the railroad crossing gate on Kimball Street at Route 31 cracked and fell on a squad car, Stegall tweeted. Close to 9:30, conditions were so bad that northbound Randall at Big Timber Road on the city's northwest site was closed down. And, Stegall said, city crews occasionally came across residents on the city's far west side who were preparing to back out of their driveways.

Stegall said city crews "gently" asked them to stay put due to the hazardous conditions.
Public Works Department crews were out in force trying to clear streets, and as city officials promised Monday night, the city's emergency snow routes were activated Tuesday, requiring residents to move their vehicles off those streets or have them towed.

For a full snow route listing, click here. Type “snow routes” in the search engine and hit “go.” But city officials also were asking residents to avoid parking along all city streets while the blizzard warning was in effect.

Earlier Tuesday, the blizzard warning had not even taken effect when area school districts began announcing the cancellation of the day's after-school programs and the closure of schools on Wednesday.

Elgin School District U-46 made its announcement late Tuesday morning via an e-mail and robo-call blitz to parents of schoolchildren.

Nearby Community Unit School District 300 issued its notice about within the hour via its Facebook page. The district also canceled Dual Language Orientations scheduled Tuesday evening and Wednesday. The cancellation of after-school activities was left to be decided by each school's principal.

Institutions of higher learning also issued announcements.

Elgin Community College shut down about 2 p.m. Tuesday and was not planning to reopen until Thursday morning, college officials said.

Judson College, issuing its announcement via Twitter and its Facebook page, shut down at mid-afternoon Tuesday, discontinuing classes through Wednesday morning and afternoon. The university, however, had not yet made a decision about its Wednesday evening classes. That decision is expected by 3 p.m. Wednesday. Judson officials urged residential students to remain on campus until the storm passes.

Government offices, businesses close

Some businesses likewise were reporting they would close for the storm.

Throughout the day, more closures were announced in the face of what potentially could be the biggest snowfall in at least 12 years and could even threaten to break the record snowfall in northern Illinois in late January 1967.

Kane County notified residents via Twitter that county government, including the courthouse and the state's attorney's office, would close by mid-afternoon Tuesday and remain closed until 8:30 a.m. Thursday, although critical personnel would continue to work. The state's attorney's office planned to have staffers available in the event of an emergency.

Also in Elgin, The Centre – the city's family recreation center – announced on its Facebook page that it would close early on Tuesday and not reopen until Thursday.

Shortly after 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, city spokeswoman Susan Olafson said that city offices likewise will be closed Wednesday for those not in critical positions for snow operations and public safety.

Snow “crews are doing well so far,” Olafson said. “We're well-prepared to meet the objectives … to keep up with the demands of the snow.”

Olafson reiterated the city's plea issued Monday evening that residents be patient about snow removal.

“The expectation is that this will be an extraordinary snow event,” she said.
The National Weather Service is calling the system a “dangerous, multifaceted and life-threatening” winter storm that will hit in two waves of intense snow – the first began late Tuesday afternoon and is expected to slow by early evening, followed by the second late Tuesday night and into the overnight hours. The heaviest snowfall is expected nearer to Lake Michigan.

But the intense snow is likely to come at a rate of 1 to 2 inches per hour. Coupled with wind, that can create white-out conditions and snowfall rates that plows may be unable to keep up with at times.

That could mean impassable side streets or other untreated roadways, and that is where Olafson asked residents to be patient.

The city is telling residents not to park on streets. Emergency snow routes will be activated and require that residents ensure their vehicles are off those roads. Cars not removed from these roads will be towed. For a full snow route listing, click here. Type “snow routes” in the search engine and hit “go.”

The city also is prepared to close roads for safety reasons that are known to be problematic for motorists. Those roads are: Nesler Road, the Lawrence Street hill at Route 31, the Chicago Street hill at Liberty Street, and the Shales Parkway hill. Drivers should use the next available intersection as an alternate route.

Here are some links for more weather-related information:

School closings:
Elgin weather information: