This past winter was a costly one for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. The agency says it spent more than $68 million on snow and ice removal. That's about 1 1/2 times the cost of a typical Kentucky winter.
The Cabinet's nearly 2,000 maintenance crew employees worked to keep more than 60,000 lane miles of roads open during 31 separate snow and ice events. To keep the roads clear, the Cabinet spread more than 438,000 tons of salt, compared with 194,000 tons state crews put down on roads during a mild winter the year before. On average, crews spread 200,000 to 250,000 tons of salt in a year.
This past winter fell short of being a record-setter. The Cabinet says the winter of 2010-2011 cost $74 million and 450,000 tons of salt.
Kentuckians are about to get reminded that spring isn't here just yet.
A cold front moving through the commonwealth Sunday could drop up to 3 inches of snow across the Bluegrass before dusting the mountains.
Forecasters say the front also will bring 20-mph wind with gusts up to 35 mph.
The National Weather Service office in Louisville has nearly three dozen Kentucky counties under weather advisories starting Sunday afternoon into the Monday morning rush hour. Even places where the snow doesn't stick for long could have a tricky commute since temperatures are expected to fall throughout the day Sunday and remain below freezing well into Monday.
Most of Kentucky received between 2-3 inches snow Sunday night into Monday morning. Mike Callahan with the National Weather Service office in Louisville says that snow was preceded by quite a bit of freezing rain and sleet
“Then, the cold air aloft came in and changed the freezing rain over to sleet, and it sleeted for quite a while,” said Callahan. “In the Bowling Green area, we had reports of as much as two inches of sleet. And finally, after midnight in changed into snow.”
Callahan says the storm "could have been much worse" had there been more freezing rain Sunday night. He says temperatures should climb above freezing Tuesday and we should see a warming trend for the rest of the week.
But will this mark the final winter storm of the season?
“Unfortunately, it is too early to tell,” said Callahan. “However, our long-range patterns are starting to show perhaps a break in this cold pattern, maybe starting in mid-March.”
This week’s snowfall and ice across parts of Kentucky are taking a toll on the Transportation Cabinet’s salt supply. Spokesman Chris Jessie says District 4 – which includes Hardin, Hart, Larue and eight other surrounding counties, has had to order reinforcements and borrow from the reserve stock in Louisville.
“We’re keeping close watch on the forecast through this upcoming week,” said Jessie. “So while we have salt on hand in our District 4 counties, if we continue to get these rounds of snow and ice as we’ve had over the past week, our situation will become more critical.”
He says crews are currently using salt “wisely”, but if supplies continue to diminish they may have to resort to conservation efforts. He says that means treating only main routes and those roadways with the highest volume of traffic.
“We want to be sure motorists understand this potential conservation method before we have to implement it,” said Jessie.
As of last week, the Transportation Cabinet said that crews had spread more than 220,000 tons of salt across the state this winter.
The National Weather Service is forecasting up to 4 inches of accumulation on Saturday for a portion of the state.
The weather service says up a system is expected to hit the state early Saturday and could bring up to 4 inches of snow in central and eastern Kentucky. Northern Kentucky is expected to see up to three inches of accumulation and south-central parts of the state could see up to an inch of snow.
It comes on the heels of another system that dropped 3-5 inches of snow over a large section of the state earlier in the week.
The weather service is also warning of high winds and frigid temperatures. Wind chill readings could have some areas seeing subzero temperatures.
Officials with the Kentucky Public Service Commission say there are about 93 hundred power outages in storm damaged areas of Kentucky, as of mid-morning Monday. That number does not include outages in areas served by municipal utilties or by rural electric cooperatives in the Tennessee Valley system.
The National Weather Service predicts a mix of wintry weather is on the way tonight into tomorrow morning. Kentucky Transportation Cabinet crews have started pre-treating highways in western and northern Kentucky in anticipation of possible sleet or snow tonight.