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Special Report: How prepared is Abilene to handle another harsh winter storm?

By Anthony Domol, adomol@ktxs.com
Published On: Nov 09 2012 11:55:38 AM CST
ABILENE, Texas -

Major winter storms are not unheard of in West Texas.

And even though we may be dealing with temperatures in the 80s, the facts are a debilitating snow or ice storm can show its face from November through early spring.

So, what if mother nature brings us a monster storm like in 2011 that nearly shutdown Abilene for a week?

In this special report, we take a look back at that storm and uncover if we are any better prepared for this winter.

Dangerous sheets of ice, inches of snow and blizzard like conditions can bring life to a standstill in the Big Country.

"Our biggest challenge normally are the storms that come in with water and then to ice and snow," Abilene Street Services Program Administrator Rodney Abila said. "Which was kind of the case in 2011."

In 2011 treacherous driving conditions lasted for days because of consecutive days below freezing.

"When it comes to ice it takes time to get rid of it, it's not going to happen overnight," Abila said.

Lengthy travel problems frustrated Abilene residents, but Abila says spending money on a lot of extra snow and ice removal equipment for future years is just not worth it.

We asked the city to breakdown their spending right now each winter.

A typical snow event costs about $3,000.

Most winters the city will only spend $30,000 to $40,000, which is budgeted.

"So our costs are very minimal," Abila said. "When you think of it that way should we really be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars when we're now spending very little. It just doesn't seem practical to do that."

Abila's team says they have what they need and are ready to go completing training in October to refresh themselves with equipment and go over their priority areas.

Darah Waldrip from TxDOT in Abilene told us her personnel has begun preparing as well.

The Abilene TxDOT district must keep roads clear for 13 surrounding counties.

During the white out of 2011 they spent over a million dollars responding to one storm!

During an average winter like we had in 2012 our TxDOT district spends about $800,000.

Rather than spending money on more equipment TxDOT is fortunate to share equipment with other Texas districts when needed.

Travel headaches go beyond the roadways, making flying just as tough.

The Abilene Regional Airport gets a leg up on winter weather though with the construction of a new building for storing equipment.

"Currently when we load chemicals, when we load sand into our equipment we're doing it outside in the weather," said Chris Taylor, assistant director of aviation at Abilene Regional Hospital. "Our products are getting wet, they're freezing. With that building it will give us the capability to utilize our equipment and chemicals as designed."

Abilene invested in $300,000 worth of snow removal equipment for the Abilene Regional Airport in 2006.

That provided the airport with a needed snowplow truck, a spreader for sand and deicing material and a broom attachment for light dry snows.

"When we have a snow event it's running constantly so we're glad to have it," said Don Green the Director of Aviation at the Abilene Regional Airport.

All of this equipment couldn't battle the storm of 2011 though.

The airport shut its doors for three and a half days!

So do they need more?

"It would have been nice to have had a snow blower so we could actually throw the snow further out away from the runways lights," said Green. "But really there's not much you can do when you've got  that thick of ice."

Each year the airport budgets $7,500 for deicing material and spends $2,500 for a replacement broom part.

The city budgets $7,500 for maintenance and fuel.