Officials issue warnings to drivers ahead of winter storm

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — If you absolutely have to drive during the incoming winter storm, follow the advice of road officials to avoid making a dangerous situation worse.

The FOX 17 weather team is forecasting heavy snow, strong winds and sub-zero temperatures. Over 200 schools are announcing closings for Monday in preparation for the storm.

While many stay indoors, hundreds of men and women are up all night clearing the roads. Jerry Byrne, director of operations for the Kent County Commission, spoke with FOX 17 Sunday evening as his staff prepared.

“When it’s not snowing a lot, people see the pavement and they think they can drive their normal speeds on it," Byrne says. "OK, and even this morning we were having accidents because it was 5 degrees, you could see the pavement but it was icy and we couldn’t do a whole lot about it. You can’t get salt to work at 5 degrees.”

Byrne says road salt starts losing effectiveness at 20 degrees.

“We’d have to put down 10 times the amount at the temperatures that they’re talking about compared to if it was 30 degrees," Byrne says. "That’s not good for the environment. You just can’t have that because most of it bounces off the road before it does any good anyways.”

He says if you absolutely have to drive, when you see a plow, stay back.

“Don’t crowd right behind us," Byrne says. "When I say give us 200 feet, that’s just a fair distance. These trucks at an intersection have to back up maybe a couple times to get all the snow on the intersection. Well if you’re right behind him, we can’t see you and chances are we’re gonna back up into your hood.”

In Ottawa County, officials are preparing for health emergencies to spike during the winter storm.

“When we see temperatures that haven’t been seen in 25 years in the lows, we see some things that really pop up that concern us," says Nick Bonstell, the director of emergency management for Ottawa County. "We know from past incidents, from past cold weather. We’re gonna see an increase in heart attacks.

"We’re gonna see an increase in people who have medical situations while they’re out shoveling in their driveway. We know that we’re gonna see an increase in car accidents.”

Bonstell says a major area of concern is crashes occurring because of other crashes. The county has seen a dramatic increase in the past couple years of emergency responders getting hit. Bonstell says they've recently had four Ottawa County Officer vehicles hit.

“Definitely it’s extremely important to give those officers and those firefighters an extra lane as you go around them. Make sure you’re not on your phone. Make sure you’re not taking pictures," Bonstell says.

Bonstell also recommends keeping a full tank of gas, making sure your phone is charged and keeping a portable charger with you.

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