The Ottumwa Courier

February 3, 2011

‘How are the roads?’

One of the top winter weather questions has a mixed answer

Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — One way to avoid getting a car stuck in the snow is to stay home.

“I issued a travel advisory [Tuesday night] saying non-essential travel is not recommended,” said Tom Rodgers, communications officer for the city of Ottumwa.  

More ominous on GO-TV Tuesday night was his statement that if you did decide to drive, and things go badly, you may not be rescued: Be prepared to spend the night in you vehicle.

“That was from the National Weather Service, a case of passing the message along,” Rodgers said. “I know at Mount Pleasant they called in the National Guard, and they are out literally doing highway rescues.”

Around noon on Wednesday, the Iowa Department of Transportation reported that travel between Ottumwa and Burlington was not advised, and again, that towing services would not be available for stranded motorists.

“You get stuck, they can’t come and get you,” Rodgers said.

An Amtrak representative told the Courier weather conditions had an impact on their operations, too. In fact, the California Zephyr arrived in Ottumwa late Tuesday night, and was ordered to stay at the station for about 11 hours.

“We’ve been holding Train 5, the California Zephyr, there since it arrived at 11:37 p.m. [Tuesday] and we were holding it overnight. Let me check if it’s still there” said Marc Magliari, Amtrak’s Chicago spokesman. “... it just pulled out 10 minutes ago.”

A later look at their website showed “weather-related issues” caused the service to cancel the next train from Chicago to California passing through Ottumwa.

But that didn’t mean the only option was walking.

“Transit is running,” said Rodgers. “They have never canceled bus service.”

One other mode of transportation was up, too.

“We have one runway open, and [a business flight] is leaving around 2 p.m.,” said Steve Black, the fixed base operator for the Ottumwa Regional Airport. “The terminal is open, the office is open. We’ve got two guys outside working, running snowplows and snowblowers. For all practical purposes, we opened at 9 a.m.”

He said the workers responsible for clearing the airport, and the streets leading up to and surrounding the airport, fought a non-stop battle against snow and ice starting Tuesday.

“The city crew does an excellent job with snow removal, Black said. “But it’s going to take all day to get everything [on the tarmac] cleared up. There were some tremendous drifts.”

Driving away, he got stuck in one of them. It looked, he said, like 6 inches of snow; no problem in his four-wheel-drive truck. It turned out to be nearly 3 feet deep.

Within city limits, the roads were mostly deserted Wednesday. Many businesses were closed and foot traffic was at a minimum.