With many Big Canoe property owners, family members and guests looking forward to a memorable white Christmas in 2020, they perhaps overlooked a hard cold truth: Father Christmas has got nothing on Mother Nature.
A perfect storm of rain, snow, below-freezing temperatures, numerous visitors, a dash of ill-advised driving, and a disruption of cellular service made for an icy mess over the Christmas weekend. Several motorists drove off roads that had frozen over. Property owners ran out of propane as the temperature dropped. And just about anyone living above the 2,000-foot elevation mark had to seriously hunker down at home until it all thawed out.
Even before the rain kicked in mid-afternoon Christmas Eve, the gates had already reported some 450 carloads of celebrants. When the showers were followed by snow and freezing weather, the moisture that had collected on roads created a slippery surface that perhaps only a Zamboni could navigate.
The so-called “black ice,” which is among the most dangerous road conditions, is something that the American Automobile Association recommends to “avoid driving if you can” – and that’s not even when factoring in the incessant curves and slopes of Big Canoe. And for anyone above the 2,000-foot elevation where the temperature is even colder, driving along the rollercoaster-like roadways is even more hazardous.
Big Canoe Public Works prepares for such weather by spraying an anti-icing brine solution on the roads, which lowers the freezing point of water via a process called freezing-point depression. Unfortunately, if the temperature drops much further than 27 degrees, the coating loses its effectiveness. And any rain that precedes the snowfall, such as what we saw on Christmas Eve, dilutes if not washes away the solution.
“During an ice situation, just stay off the roads,” said Public Works Manager Jacob Van Zant. “If you know it’s coming, you need to be prepared for it . . . especially if you are at higher ground.”
While public safety and public works staffs respond to weather-related issues, the most important part of the preparedness is in the hands of those living in or visiting Big Canoe. Remember:
- The priority for Public Works is to ensure access for emergency vehicles. With snow and ice conditions, roads are scraped and graveled. They typically start with clearing a single lane from gate to gate, allowing access for emergency vehicles and other essential transportation.
- Secondary roads will be similarly cleared next only if conditions make it possible. Depending on the type of precipitation, many minor or higher-elevation roads will likely not be scraped or graveled before sunlight and more favorable temperatures clear up the conditions.
- Make sure you have at least 72 hours if not a week of food. Stock non-perishable items, along with bottled water, medications, pet food, and other essential supplies during the colder months.
- Make sure you have ample firewood and plenty of propane gas on hand long before the winter season when staffing challenges might disrupt delivery services.
- Keep your car’s fuel tank close to full to avoid running out of gas in bad weather.
- Prepare yourself for power outages with flashlights, battery-powered lanterns and portable cellphone chargers. And don’t forget the board games, puzzles or books to pass the time.
- Fire Chief Ricky Jordan in the December issue of Inside the Gates (go to page 17) recommends having back-up power and heat.
- Public Safety strongly recommends against driving in hazardous conditions – even if you’re convinced that a last-minute IGA run won’t take long. Residents have become stranded away from home, sometimes for hours, with help unable or unavailable to assist.
- Public Safety vehicles, often equipped with the likes of heavy-duty tire chains, are set up to respond to winter weather emergencies. If you see one of their vehicles traveling with ease, don’t think your car has the same capabilities—or that you are free to tail such vehicles, unless advised to do so.
- If the temperature drops below freezing, make sure all your faucets are dripping so that your pipes don’t freeze and burst.
- Public Safety gets some unexpected requests—one property owner asked that they bring firewood to their home. Remember, their primary objective is to maintain emergency response capabilities for the entire community, which can range from extinguishing fires to addressing medical emergencies—but they are not a concierge service.
- Public Safety is not a shuttle service giving property owners a lift to social gatherings.
- To contact Public Safety: (706) 268-3376 or (706) 268-3399.
Normally, Old Man Winter gives us a break, and after a beautiful dusting of snow, the temperature rises and we’re back to normal within a day or two. As we have learned, there is nothing “normal” about life in 2020 – and probably not 2021, either. So please, take Chief Ricky’s message to heart: “Be prepared, be weather aware!”