Ice, fire, and water
Welcome to Marion County, where farmers light controlled burns in dry fields while cars and trucks are sliding off icy roads.
As we wrap up February, we’ve had two-thirds less precipitation than normal for the year, and as of Thursday, the National Drought Mitigation Center Drought Monitor lists the county as being under “severe drought.” Long-range projections through June suggest it’s anyone’s guess as to whether we’ll get our normal rainfall.
Of course, long-range projections about the weather are about as useful as a screen door on a submarine. Last July, forecasters were predicting above average precipitation for the fall.
County firefighters, who’ve been scurrying around putting out ditch fires, brush fires, and field fires of late, remain on alert.
And because it’s Kansas at the end of February, state and county road crews have been on alert, too. Last week’s smatterings of ice pellets, freezing rain, and freezing fog came at just the right times to wreck school class and activity schedules, despite the hours and miles logged by those trying to clear the roads.
State crews armed with ample chemicals and trucks mostly kept ahead of the icy onslaught, while county and city crews did what they could with what they had, with mixed success. Complaints were registered loud and clear about numerous county paved roads that were more like Olympic bobsleigh tracks than vehicle thoroughfares in all parts of the county.
120th Rd. east of Goessel was a prime example of the conundrum facing potential drivers. Friday, the north lane had choppy channels of clear pavement from Indigo Rd. to K-15 that allowed westbound traffic relatively safe, if slow, passage. As for the eastbound lane on the south? Careful wasn’t enough for at least two drivers who ended up sliding off ice-covered sections into ditches that were fortunately shallow. Sheriff’s deputies called for road and bridge department crews to come close the road, conditions were so hazardous.
Then Monday, Goessel firefighters were racing down that same road to a field fire that was larger than they expected when they arrived.
There’s little worse for gravel and dirt roads than water from melting ice that slowly seeps into roadbeds rather than running off. Many roads that looked good over the weekend weren’t, as numerous unsuspecting drivers discovered. Grader operators in some areas will have plenty to keep them busy as roads dry out enough to work and shape.
We’ve experienced enough “surprise” snowfalls in April to not be surprised anymore, and to know we’re nowhere close to being out of the woods when it comes to bad weather and tough driving conditions.
Do yourselves a favor during this brief lull and check your tires and tire pressures. Snow, ice, or mud, you stand the best chance of making it through safely with properly inflated tires with adequate tread.
Remember, too, that some of the worst conditions can occur when things start to melt, particularly if there’s an overnight freeze. Invisible “black ice” can form just as readily after a melt begins as it when a cold weather event starts.
Few times of the year demonstrate any more clearly the effects that water, whether in amounts just right, too little, or too much, has on our lives.
There couldn’t be a better time for Marion City Library to open its month-long exhibit about how water has shaped our lives throughout history. From mineral springs and floods to the construction of Marion Reservoir, volunteers have put together a fascinating display of information and artifacts illustrating how water has shaped a community. It’s well worth a visit.
Meanwhile, we’ll all continue trying to figure out what’s next, wondering why none of us had the foresight to become meteorologists, where “in the neighborhood” seems to be good enough to keep bringing home the bacon. Most folks have had quite enough of winter weather, and even our road and bridge department crews would grudgingly take some good soaking rains to help the wheat. If there’s anything we’ve learned living life on the prairie, good times don’t come without a little hardship now and then.
— david colburn
Last modified Feb. 28, 2018