A Snow Emergency, short for “emergency snow removal operation”, is nothing more than the enforcement of an established plan for on-street parking that allows the Department of Public Works (DPW) the ability to quickly and safely remove snow from Muscatine streets, alleys, and city owned parking lots.
The on-street parking plan works to increase the efficiency of snow removal operations by limiting on-street parking even if a snow emergency is not declared. In fact, the City urges residents to remember and utilize the on-street parking plan for any snow event of two inches or more.
The ability to clear city streets, curb to curb, and alleys in a timely, efficient manner benefits residents who need on-street parking and the City who can move on to other projects once the snow removal has concluded. Adhering to the parking plan can reduce the frustration of vehicle owners who often find their vehicles surrounded by snow piles and reduce the difficulties faced by snowplow drivers who must be aware of parked vehicles while clearing the streets.
So when is a snow emergency declared?
A Snow Emergency is declared when anticipated snowfall and other weather conditions are expected to significantly impact public safety.
Representatives from City administration, the Department of Public Works, Muscatine Fire Department, and Muscatine Police Department monitor the forecast, determine resources needed for the weather event, and begin to stage those resources for snow removal operations. These representatives continue to meet as the storm approaches to determine the impact to public safety and to the safety of City workers.
A Snow Emergency is usually declared before the first snowflake falls when the anticipated weather and road conditions warrant. Every storm is different, however, and not all winter storms warrant the declaration of a snow emergency. The form and amount of precipitation, the duration of the event, and other weather related factors are used to determine the response to a particular winter storm.
Discussions on the most recent winter storm (code named Bruce by the Weather Channel) began before the Thanksgiving holiday when the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a Winter Storm Watch. The NWS was fairly certain that the storm was going to affect the southeastern portion of Iowa but the path and amount of snowfall changed daily. A Winter Storm Warning was issued days before the storm impacted the area.
“The forecast entering the weekend was for 4-8 inches of snow and windy conditions,” Brian Stineman, Public Works Director, said. “At that point we were fairly confident that we could handle snow removal operations without the need to declare a snow emergency.”
That changed midway through the weekend when the computer models fine-tuned the path of the storm and increased the potential snowfall to 8-12+ inches. An additional twist was the issuance of a blizzard warning by the NWS with winds expected to top out at 45 mph.
With many communities in the region declaring snow emergencies ahead of the storm’s impact, Muscatine officials began communicating early Sunday morning and agreed that the expected weather conditions warranted a declaration.
“Ideally you want to make the call sooner rather than later,” Gregg Mandsager, City Administrator, said. “It just depends on the makeup of the storm and its forecasted impact.”
The minimum amount of time between the declaration of a snow emergency and the beginning of enforcement is four hours according to City code. And if that declaration is made after 8 p.m., enforcement cannot begin until after 8 a.m. the following day.
“Every event is different,” Stineman said. “We want to be sure that all our personnel are on the same page and ready to successfully deal with the weather event and the public. And we want to make sure that the public has advance notice of the parking restrictions so that they can adhere to the snow emergency parking plan.”
So what is this on-street parking plan?
A Snow Emergency declaration brings the enforcement arm of the on-street parking plan into effect (ticketing and towing of vehicles) and specifies what streets are cleared first. The declaration lasts a minimum of 48 hours but can be amended if road and weather conditions warrant.
The City has five emergency snow plow routes which include snow ordinance routes, hospital access streets, school access routes, and transit emergency bus routes. These routes are cleared from curb to curb before the City proceeds to other streets. During a snow emergency, on-street parking is not permitted on either side of one of these routes until the streets are cleared. A color coded map of these routes is available on the City of Muscatine web site.
According to City Code, streets that normally allow parking on both sides of the street will be subject to “alternate side of the street” parking during a snow emergency and this is the recommended parking plan during non-snow emergency events as well. The parking plan states that, on odd-numbered days of the month, parking is permitted only on the odd-numbered side of the street. Likewise, parking is permitted only on the even-numbered side of the street on even-numbered days.
There are two provisions for all streets where parking is allowed only on one side. If that side is on the even-numbered side, street parking is allowed only on even-numbered days with no parking allowed on odd-numbered days. Likewise, if the one side is on the odd-numbered side of the street, parking is allowed only on odd-numbered days with no parking allowed on even-numbered days.
The grace period (or transition time) for moving a vehicle between the first and second snow emergency day (and subsequent days as needed) is 12 a.m. to 8 a.m. For example, if the day was Nov. 28 and you were parked on the even side, you have until 8 a.m. on Nov. 29 to move your vehicle to the odd numbered side of the street. No tickets will be issued during the grace period.
Just because the snow emergency is over does not mean you can leave these vehicle on the street without moving them. Muscatine Police will continue to ticket and tow vehicles that have not moved since the snow storm until the streets are clear. Muscatine Police Chief Brett Talkington reminds residents that the city parking ordinance states you MUST move your vehicles every 24 hours at least 25 feet.
Remember your sidewalks
While the City works to clear streets, alleys, and parking lots of snow and ice, it is the responsibility of property owners to clear their sidewalks. The benefits of clearing sidewalks include reducing the potential for pedestrian falls while traversing the property, and clearing a safe path for public safety personnel if they are needed at the property.
Section 3-1-4 of the Muscatine City Code states that property owners are responsible for clearing natural accumulations of snow and ice from the sidewalks within 24 hours after the last snowfall. If the property owner does not clear the sidewalk in a reasonable time, the City will attempt to notify the property owner to remove the snow and ice. If the City clears the snow and ice, the property owner will be assessed the costs of removal.
Another section of the City code (Section 3-1-7) simply states that it is unlawful to throw, push or place any ice or snow from private property, sidewalks or driveways onto the streets.