JoCo on the Go Podcast: Winter Weather Preparedness

On JoCo on the Go, episode #149, we’re taking a look at Winter Weather Preparedness in Johnson County as we anticipate snow and ice in the coming months. You will hear from Emergency Management about practical tips for being prepared. You’ll get the latest on what Johnson County is doing to help protect water quality while managing snow and ice buildup. We’ll also get you up to date on Johnson County’s process for clearing unincorporated roads. Please join us as our experts talk all things Winter Weather Preparedness. Visit for more information.

JoCo on the Go Webcast: Winter Weather Preparedness

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Time Subject
00:26 Introduction
02:27 Tips for staying safe during winter weather
05:04 Best practices for de-icing
06:49 County and city responsibilities for treating roads
11:08 Emergency kits for cars
14:52 Protecting both residents and water quality


Bryn Smernoff 0:00 

There's "snow" place like home in Johnson County. On this episode, hear how three Johnson County departments are helping residents prepare for snow and ice in the coming months.

Announcer 0:11 

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Bryn Smernoff 0:26 

With colder and colder weather approaching, today's episode is all about winter weather preparedness. First, I'd like to introduce our guests. If you can please state your name, title and what your department does for the county. Claire, we'll start with you.

Claire Canaan 0:42 

Hi, I am Claire Canaan. I'm the assistant director of community preparedness for Johnson County Emergency Management. In our office, we are everything preparedness, mitigation, recovery and response. So when there's a disaster in Johnson County, or severe weather, we are the office that helps kind of make sure our community's prepared for those things and is able to successfully recover from those situations as well.

Bryn Smernoff 1:13 

Welcome Claire. Greg, we'll go to you.

Greg Rohe 1:16 

This is Greg Rohe with Johnson County Public Works. I'm a foreman for the road and bridge department. I'm filling in for Ian. He's in the urban services department for water quality. So that's kind of what I'm doing.

Bryn Smernoff 1:32 

Welcome. And Wes.

Wes Root 1:35 

Hello, my name is Wes Root. I'm the road superintendent for Johnson County Public Works. And when we're referring to Johnson County, just want to make sure that people are aware that we're talking about kind of the unincorporated roads outside of the city limits. So we have about 390 miles of roadways that we work with in Public Works, whether we'd be out there take care of gravel roads, asphalt roads, drainage situations, stuff like that in the unincorporated area of Johnson County.

Bryn Smernoff 2:07 

Awesome. Welcome all. In the coming months, we can most likely expect a typical Kansas winter with snow and ice impacts. And it's important for people to be prepared. Claire, can you please share your top three tips for staying safe during winter weather?

Claire Canaan 2:27 

Yeah. So first thing's first: being prepared. It's never too soon to be prepared for the winter weather. Sometimes it's not in our mind until it gets closer to this season. But now's a great time to go with your family, your friends, your housemates, whoever you may live with or live near and go over a plan. What's your plan if you are stuck in your house during winter weather? What's your plan if you get stuck on the roadways? So having that plan in place and making sure that you've gathered and organized supplies within your home and being prepared to dress for the varying degrees of cold weather. Another tip that we always put out there is monitoring the changing weather and having multiple ways to receive alerts. This is for all season all year, all different kinds of weather, making sure you're checking the forecast, making that part of your daily routine. Checking it through local media, mobile apps, there's so many different ways to receive alerts, especially Notify JoCo. We encourage all residents to, if they're not registered to get registered. If you are, go in there and double check if your information is up to date. But it's the mass notification system for the county where residents and businesses can get alerts for emergency and non-emergency events. Oh, and then sorry, I have a third one too. Sorry. My third one would be to stay safe if you're indoors. But if you are outside, be prepared for that as well. We encourage during hazardous weather, encourage people to stay inside, limit your travel. Knowing if there's power failures or inadequate heating systems, that you know how to stay safe in your home, how to stay warm, making sure you're lighting and heating your home safely. Knowing where your space heaters are, candles, not catching anything on fire. Then if you do have to drive during the weather, making sure your vehicle is up to date on maintenance and making sure that you've got a full tank of gas and having a good, well-supplied emergency kit in that vehicle and accessible.

Bryn Smernoff 4:24 

Awesome. Thanks for those tips. Claire. I know I'm signed up for Notify JoCo, and recently on the emergency management social media accounts, you shared a ton of winter weather preparedness tips that I'm sure people can go back and scroll through for more information. So thank you for that. Awesome. One thing people might be curious about is managing snow and ice at their residence. Greg, can you please talk a little bit about how salts and de-icing compounds can harm water quality and maybe share some tips for best practices when applying it to sidewalks and driveways?

Greg Rohe 5:04 

Okay, I'm filling in here for the urban services department. So if you are putting your salt or de-icing compound on your driveway and steps, it's best to apply a recommended amount on the box or the bag that you're getting. And then please don't apply again and again if it's not working. You're going to have to wait for some kind of sunlight or temperatures to rise. If you need to put down for traction, put down a little sand or a little dirt or something for attraction purposes, because the more salt you're putting down, the less that it actually works for as in temperature. So if you're putting down more it actually rises, it has to be like 28 degrees instead of 20 degrees for it to work. And the water quality, what happens is, is we get too much salt down and we get the melt from the snow or we happen to get a a sleet or a mist or rain. It goes into our stormwater sanitary basins and then it goes on down into creeks and stuff. And too much salt will raise the levels and then we start to affect fish, insects. It'll even kill your grasses in your yard if you get too much salt in areas. So that's what we're trying to avoid and make it a safer environment for all species and all life.

Bryn Smernoff 6:30 

Wonderful. Yeah, that's great information to share with the public. Speaking of salting the roads, Wes, can you please share with our listeners the difference between the county's responsibilities and the city's responsibilities when it comes to preparing roads for winter weather?

Wes Root 6:49 

Okay, so most of your cities, the roads are pretty much all hard surface. So when they apply their salt, the salt will actually help either keep the ice and snow from attaching to the pavement or help the bond from the pavement so they can plow it off. We still have 130 miles of gravel roads that whenever that salt's applied to a hard surface or like an asphalt or concrete road, it could melt through the solid, go down to the bottom and work on breaking the bond between the ice and the pavement. So the roads can be cleared with plows. Gravel roads don't have that ability, you know, because it would just soak on into the soil. And it would actually lower the freezing temperature of the soil and make soft spots on the, on the gravel. So we have the 130 miles of gravel roads that pretty much all we can do is blade them, blading them will actually turn up some aggregate into the surface. And so that would give them a little bit of traction like Greg was talking about, on your slick steps. Otherwise, our asphalt roads and concrete roads are very similar to city roads. During the daytime, you know, you're treating, you're plowing. At nighttime, it's a lot different. A lot of your city streets have more frequent stop signs with intersections, streetlights, street signals and stuff like that. And so it's easy to kind of see where you're at. When you get out in the country, there's no lights, there's only your headlights. If the snow's drifted across the road, it can make everything really flat. You know, sometimes we have edge drop-offs. So our drivers have to really kind of be careful and clear that first path closer down the middle, you know, for their safety and then work their way out to the edge. So nighttime is a challenge for our guys. We usually run a smaller crew and just work on trying to keep the main lines open. And then we'll have a larger crew out during the day when it's a lot easier to see and a lot safer for everybody to be clearing those county roads.

Bryn Smernoff 8:59 

Yeah, I know that definitely sounds like a challenge at night, and amazing work that your team is doing. If the listeners had questions about snow removal, so if they're in the cities, they would contact their city. But if they're in unincorporated areas, they would contact Johnson County Public Works, is that right?

Wes Root 9:17 

That's correct. There's also, if you go to Johnson County's website and go to the Public Works Department, there's a service request on there. And when you click on it, if you happen to be in the city, it'll let you know what city to contact. If you click on and you're in the county, there's a form to fill out down below. That information goes straight into our asset management program. And then we would get that email and could, you know, contact the citizen back or go out and take care of the situation. So we ask people to give us a little bit of time whenever an event would get started. If they have an emergency, contact the Sheriff's Department or the police department, and they work with us to get a truck out there. Like, let's say, an ambulance can't get to a house, but they need us, they need to be there. We can run a plow right in front of the ambulance to get there. So the service request is an easy way to reach out and let us know, "Hey, I think you might have missed our street, you know." We can usually have our roads cleaned up in a 12-hour shift once the snow stops. So after that amount a time you still see something we may have missed, accidents do happen. So we'd definitely check it out and get out there and get it taken care of. Or if we inadvertently put snow across your driveway to where you can't clear it out. We've inadvertently done that a time or two, a new driver didn't realize the driveway was there.

Bryn Smernoff 10:47 

Yeah awesome. Well thank you for sharing that with everybody. So in case of an emergency on the roads, Claire, I want to circle back with you. You mentioned emergency kits for cars. Can you walk us through some tips, should people be putting together these kits to keep in their car?

Claire Canaan 11:08 

Yeah, and it's very simple. It's a lot of things that you probably either already have in your vehicle, just maybe scattered throughout, or things you can just find in your home. But having that kit ready in your vehicle in an area that's accessible that if you can't, you know, if you're stranded on...We always tell people you're stranded on a highway or a roadway during winter weather specifically, to stay in the vehicle. Low visibility, ice, snow, just bad roadways, you're going to be safer staying in your vehicle. If you can't get out and get to the trunk and that's where your emergency kit is, it may not be of any use to you. So we always say have that good, stocked emergency kit somewhere accessible. Just different things to think of to include in there would be non-perishable food items, water, a flashlight, ice scraper, a snow brush, blanket, extra clothing, maybe some snow boots, if you aren't always wearing snow boots, and you do have to get out of your vehicle to walk to help somewhere, an extra phone charger, maybe some clumping cat litter, that helps if you put it in, under your tires kind of get traction to try to get the vehicle out if you're stuck, empty gas can. Just a variety of different things that if you can only have a few certain things in there, but small. You put that in your vehicle, have that ready to go, make sure you're checking it, maintaining it, switching out items if they've expired or aren't good anymore. But it's important that they have those items in your vehicle, and you'll feel a lot safer, a lot better prepared, should your vehicle get stranded on a roadway during a winter storm.

Bryn Smernoff 12:47 

Well, after this recording, I'm definitely going to put together my kit to keep in the car. Those are great tips. So thank you for sharing. Wes, back to you. Can you share what your team's highest priority roads are and maybe how much salt the county would use in a season to prepare roads?

Wes Root 13:06 

So our highest priority roads are the section line roads, or thoroughfare roads like, you know, 175th, 199th, the ones that connect from town to town. So we focus on those first and then we work out to the other section lined roads. You know, like, 191st, 183rd, four corners, Edgerton and such. We have two salt domes. Each one holds about 2,500 tons. We'll go through one dome, usually in a season for now through March, we'll have typically 10 to 12 storms. It really kind of varies as to how long the storm lasts as to how much we use per storm. It winds up working about a dome per year. But sometimes one storm will require a lot more. If the temperatures are holding just below freezing to where it comes down more as rain and we're getting more ice and we're trying to fight that ice off the road for safety, we'll probably use a little more salt. If it comes down and it's colder and the snow is fluffier, we're able to plow more because as it's piling up, you're just blading that salt off again. Well, we don't want to just be blading it off into the streams. So we will stop with the salting and we'll just be plowing for a while until it comes down to where we have some packed areas that we're trying to de-ice and clean up later. So yeah, we have about 390 miles of roadway, 133 of it is gravel roads and 57 of it are hard surface roads. So it's about a third versus two thirds.

Bryn Smernoff 14:51 

Yeah, that sounds like a lot, and I've actually seen the salt domes in person and they're very impressive. Awesome. Greg, earlier, you know, we talked about salts and other compounds harming water quality. Can you share some of the amazing ways the county is innovating to help balance protecting residents and also protecting water quality?

Greg Rohe 15:16 

Yeah, sure. We're really lucky with the Public Works Department. Our leaders have been really good in the last five, six years of actually trying to plow more instead of throwing salt down. We have AVL systems that Wes is working on trying to get what mode every truck's in. So that tells us how much salt per lane mile we're putting down. We've also been trying brine. We've been getting our brine through Olathe. So that way, when we apply that brine down before a snowstorm, it's actually on the surface it dries. So if you see those marks or rungs down the pavement, that's a salt brine, it's at 23.3%. It's at optimal level of the mixture of working properly. That is better than what we call.. that's a pretreat. But we used to pretreat with dry salt. When we pretreat with dry salt, we get a lot of crushed salt that blows off if the wind's up, and it goes into our streams a lot faster. And we get no, well, I shouldn't say none...we would get a little bit of working off of it. But we lose a lot, we lose probably 50 to 70% off into our streams and stuff. Whereas brine is contact, it's dried, and then it's underneath the ice or the snow. And then it melts from below, plus what we're putting on top later on. So we are trying to do innovations of that. And also, we've got a new brine machine. So we're going to start making our own brine with the county. So that's a great asset that we've got. And that will minimize this water quality problem that we're monitoring. And all the guys are starting to look at snow plowing instead of maybe throwing so much salt down. So the department's doing some leaps and bounds. We have a salt task formed committee right now that's trying to work on new ways, new innovations. So we are trying our best at the Johnson County to help our citizens in the water quality. And if anybody has any more questions about water quality, they can call the 913-715-8300 number and ask for urban services. And they have actually an EN that goes out and actually tests the water and streams and stuff, so they would be better to answer questions on water quality. So we are working hard to help Johnson County.

Bryn Smernoff 17:58 

Sounds like it and that sounds like some, you know, amazing work that your teams are all doing. Thank you all so much for joining us to talk about winter weather preparedness and for sharing your expertise. Listeners can bookmark There you'll find our winter weather guide, helpful resources and information about winter weather impacts throughout the county. And you can also follow emergency management on Twitter and Facebook at JoCo_Emergency and Johnson County, KS Emergency Management. Thanks again for listening.

Announcer 18:37 

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at jocogov. For more on this podcast, visit Thanks for listening.

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