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Kontos Column: Props to the warriors of winter

By Dan Kontos

We have certainly enjoyed a mild start to winter this year. December seemed more like October, though some outdoor enthusiasts were not terribly happy.  Thank goodness for global warming, right? Maybe ex-Climate Czar Al Gore and other charlatans can fly around in their private jets some more to keep that 0.04% of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from falling. But I digress.

However, now, after two winter storms, we are back to the kind of weather that we are accustomed to here in Central Wisconsin. You know what that means, snow and cold.

We’re used to it. Heavy snow falls, blowing winds, and freezing temperatures can make our lives tough. Slippery and impassable roads keep us from easily getting to work, school, appointments, or the store. So, we wait a bit, and soon, our highways are safe and traversable again.

But that doesn’t happen by magic, and we don’t have to wait until spring to travel again.

It happens because of those winter warriors that we all too often take for granted. I’m talking about Those Magnificent Men in their Snow-Moving Machines (to butcher a classic song title.)

While most of us sleep, or get ready for living our next day, skilled men and women hit the streets to clear the snow and ice out of our way so we can get on with our lives. Snow plow drivers, to tag them with a generic term, often work long hours, and under dangerous conditions to keep our society moving. I, for one, appreciate their efforts.

I think it’s fitting to give them a shout-out and express some appreciation for all they do for us. Now Snow Plow Driver Appreciation Day here in Wisconsin was last November 27, but wouldn’t you rather give them some props now that the snow has actually fallen, even though it was 18 degrees at noon on that day?

During the 2022-2023 winter season (November to April), Portage County saw 241 reportable crashes on ice, snow, or slush-covered roadways. That’s over 43% of the total crashes. This resulted in 45 injuries and one fatality. As of January 15 for this season, we’re already up to 87 crashes, with 20 injuries, and one fatality. Now imagine those same roads without the intervention of our snow removal crews.

You can see the difference when you cross municipal and county boundaries across the state. As I travel quite frequently, I’m always taken in by the tremendous job that we do here at home. Whether they are working for Portage County, one of our local municipalities, or even a private contractor, it doesn’t take long to get our roads open and safe.

Journeying through a snow event, you can take heart in the sight of flashing amber lights indicating that hard-working professionals are striving to improve our trip. Now with the advent of adding green flashing lights to county and municipal vehicles (sorry private outfits, they’re not allowed for you), you can clearly pick out the big boys hard at work, so give them room.

Fully equipped snowplows can weigh some 10 to 25 times that of an average car, typically travel 25 to 35 miles per hour when working, and are hampered by limited visibility for the driver. While it’s not illegal to pass a plow, it is against the law to follow one closer than 200 feet if the speed limit is 35 MPH or higher. Additionally, it’s often hard to see past a plow, and plow wings can extend well past the body of the truck.

Since 2017, across Portage County, we average almost nine snow plows involved in reportable crashes every year. So please, when you see them working, slow down and give them room to work.

Plow drivers make up just a small fraction of all the public servants dedicated to making your life safer, healthier, and better. Honor them by showing your respect for what they do by how you drive when they are on the road. They’re doing their job, so you can do yours.

So, with that, let’s meet in the opinion section to talk about all of it, boldly, honestly, and with a healthy respect for each other. Until then, God bless.