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DeKalb County finds ways to make best of extreme weather

Northern Illinois student Jaclyn Fowler (center) looks to retaliate while participating in a snowball fight Tuesday outside University Plaza in DeKalb.
Northern Illinois student Jaclyn Fowler (center) looks to retaliate while participating in a snowball fight Tuesday outside University Plaza in DeKalb.

DeKALB – Dan Raih didn’t get a snow day Tuesday.

A crew leader in the street operations division for DeKalb Public Works, Raih woke up at 6 a.m. and had been plowing all day. Normally, he works an eight-hour shift, but on snowy days like Tuesday, the shift is extended to 12 hours.

“Whenever it starts, it doesn’t matter – whenever it starts,” Raih said. “If it’s going to snow for a long duration, we try to rotate through to keep the guys fresh. ... You come in when it starts.”

Raih and his colleagues should have a much better day today. Gilbert Sebenste, the staff meteorologist at Northern Illinois University, said heavy snowfall was expected to end Tuesday evening, and wind gusts were expected to die down later Tuesday night.

“There will be a lot of snow on the side of the road, or the sidewalks,” Sebenste said. “And tomorrow afternoon, the sun should appear.”

The winter storm that hit DeKalb County on Tuesday morning with at least 8 inches of snow led to the cancellation of classes at schools throughout the county, several businesses closing early and dozens of events being postponed.

After NIU canceled classes starting at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Stephanie Bourgeois, a senior environmental studies major, organized a massive snowball fight among 100 or so students. It mimicked a snowball fight hosted during the February 2011 blizzard.

NIU junior special education major Amy Long wanted to experience a massive snowball fight just once in her college career.

“I was sick during that big blizzard [in 2011], so I knew I had to come to this one since I missed the first one,” Long said.

The Rodriguez family in DeKalb also was preparing for a snowball fight Tuesday afternoon. Diego, 17, and Irma, 14, Rodriguez helped their little sister, Emily, build walls that were bigger than her.

“Since we don’t have school, we came out here and played with her,” Diego Rodriguez said.

The snow kept falling throughout the day, which posed problems for snow plowers like Raih. Raih would motion to a snow-covered street, and state how long it has been since he or another plow had been over that stretch of road.

This late in the winter, sun and ground temperatures can make his job easier.

“That’s melting on its own,” Raih said as he plowed Tuesday, motioning to one of the side streets in DeKalb. “We haven’t salted that or plowed that off. The late spring storms – they get the bulk of the snow through the sun and the pavement.”

Raih and other plow drivers have to be vigilant when the sun goes down, as the slush on the road can freeze. Raih said a slight change in temperature or time can affect how he will plow the roads.

“One degree up and you could be dealing with freezing rain,” Raih said, adding freezing rain requires salting.

Apart from the snow, a plow driver has other things to worry about, like parked cars and people who shovel the snow from their driveways and sidewalks into the street.

DeKalb’s snow plowers are divided into six teams. Raih and his crew will plow roads along Sycamore Road, Pleasant Street, and Peace Road. Each crew focuses on the main streets, then green streets like 13th Street, and finally all the other roads, Raih said.

Despite the long shifts, Raih said he enjoys his job. But he’s eager for spring to come.

“To me it’s work. It’s my job, I enjoy it. The first storm comes, you’re all jacked up and ready to go,” Raih said. “The second storm it slowly tapers down until it’s no fun anymore. I enjoy my job, but I’m ready to move on to spring and be done with this.”

His plans for the spring: “Get the boat out and go fishing.”

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