Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 15, 2014

Snow snarls GT roads


— TRAVERSE CITY — Buckle up, there's more snow on the horizon.

A storm that struck the Traverse City area during Tuesday's rush hour snarled traffic to a standstill, frustrated commuters and plow truck drivers alike and led to dozens of minor traffic crashes, including two that involved school buses.

And this afternoon looked like more of the same.

Mike Boguth, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Gaylord office, said motorists took to the roads about the same time an "Alberta clipper" — a low pressure system from Canada — started to dump between 6 and 10 inches of heavy snow across Grand Traverse County.

"Most of the time they do not generate the amount of snow that it did," he said. "This one that came through was pretty unique in terms of the snow that it brought with it."

Grand Traverse County sheriff's Capt. Chris Clark said about 35 crashes coincided with the storm's arrival, along with 25 other traffic-related incidents that required deputies' attention. Two school buses were involved in separate crashes about an hour apart. No injuries were reported in either crash.

At 3:37 p.m. a Dean Transportation bus carrying six Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District students slid down a slippery hill on Church Road, through the intersection with North Long Lake Road and into a car. Mike Hill, TBAISD's superintendent, said parents were immediately notified.

"The accident was a concern and we're thankful that all students and staff are safe," he said.

Kellie Dean, president and owner of Dean Transportation, said the bus driver was at-fault, but officers noted the slick road conditions. He said the driver will undergo an advanced defensive driving program.

"We believe the driver did everything she could do at that time," Dean said. "It was just a matter of bad road conditions coming up very quickly."

An hour later, a Traverse City Area Public Schools bus was struck by a vehicle near the intersection of U.S. 31 and Five Mile Road. TCAPS spokeswoman Christine Guitar said no students were on board.

Leelanau County also saw bus crashes on Tuesday; two Bay Area Transportation Authority school buses had to be pulled back onto the roads after slide-offs in the slippery road conditions.

The rash of weather-related slide-offs, fender benders and other crashes is keeping local body shops busy.

Mike Burlingame, shop manager at Sonny’s Body Shop in Traverse City, said tow trucks brought in four vehicles on Tuesday night alone. He said the shop's planned move to a bigger facility next door in February is coming at a good time.

"We're scheduled now for a week-and-a-half to two weeks," he said.

Grand Traverse County Road Commission Manager Jim Cook joined the ranks of frustrated motorists who contended with slow traffic and slick conditions — a drive from the road commission's office to a meeting in Blair Township took more than an hour. He called his workers and found that plow trucks also were stuck in traffic and couldn't reach the slickest spots.

"I think it was just bad timing," he said. "By the time traffic got done, it was really pressing ice on the road. ... (T)hey were putting product down and scraping the best they could, but once the ice is on the pavement it's hard to get down."

Cook said road commission trucks tried to take advantage of a relative lull in the snowy weather today to clear roads before a predicted temperature drop makes road salt ineffective.

Boguth said another Alberta clipper began to move through the region tonight, but was expected to result in less snow. He said forecasters predict between 4 to 6 inches of additional snowfall through Friday and periodic bouts continuing into next week.

"We're getting to maybe a more snowy period, but we're not going to be seeing another like the one we saw (Tuesday) night," he said.

Boguth said temperatures will fall below normal averages in the next week after a brief warm up — 30 degrees — Thursday. He said highs next Wednesday will only reach the mid-teens.