Last week, we learned how municipalities from Pennsylvania to Florida dealt with extreme winter conditions earlier this year. More comments came in from clients in Michigan and Minnesota. 

Waterford Township, Michigan

Comments by Frank Fisher, DPW Engineering Superintendent

Immediately before the Polar Vortex, southeastern Michigan endured a heavy snowstorm that dropped more than a foot of snow. The subsequent onset of the Polar Vortex complicated the situation severely. Not only did Waterford have to deal with the extreme colds of the Polar Vortex, but the record-breaking cold was setting in just as the cleanup of the snowfall event was underway.

While accustomed to dealing with winter weather conditions, the combination of unusually heavy snow and severe cold took an increased toll on both equipment and infrastructure. The increased depth of the frost caused a spike in the number of broken water mains and services. Subzero conditions caused increased fatigue for staff and they had to take extra measures to limit their exposure to the elements. Waterford Township Department of Public Works staff did an exceptional job working through the adverse conditions to provide continued services to citizens.

Cityworks was critical in the organization and recording of work activities during the Polar Vortex and the period afterward. Cityworks was the key engine providing data for the analysis of total costs of the events. This data was used to determine how much this event impacted our operational budget.

The GIS-centric nature of Cityworks was key for us in handling the storm. We developed data models to track work order costs against not only water and sewer assets, but also facilities and grounds. The flexibility to leverage Cityworks against varied GIS datasets is one of the characteristics that make Cityworks a powerful tool for scheduling, tracking, and analyzing the cost of our operations.

Coon Rapids, Minnesota

Comments by Cindy Hintze, GIS Specialist

Because of the Polar Vortex, we had a number of calls for frozen water pipes. We had instances where home furnaces went out, causing citizen’s water meters to freeze and forcing the residents to evacuate. We had several water main breaks as well, which are always difficult in cold weather because the roads become iced very quickly and salt does not work in extreme cold.

The Polar Vortex was just the beginning of a long and extreme winter at Coon Rapids and we will continue to feel its effects for quite some time. In mid-March the frost in the ground remained six to nine feet deep, and unusually cold temperatures persisted. We anticipated increased water main breaks—when the frost finally started to come out of the ground—as well as a higher number of water service lines that would leak.

In 2008 we started turning water off at vacant properties because gas and electric utilities were disconnected, which resulted in severe damage due to burst water pipes. Tracking this vacant property information in Cityworks is vital because it allows both code enforcement and public works to see and share the information in a timely manner. Our vacant property work orders are attached to address points, and public works water layers to attach their work orders. We track tasks within the vacant property work order, including the water situation (whether it’s on or off) and issues with curb stops. Our situation throughout the winter was challenging, but without the help of Cityworks we literally would not have been able to keep up with our work.

Holland Board of Public Works, Michigan

Comments by Peter Schneider, GIS/CAD Specialist

During the Polar Vortex, we experienced below-average temperatures, with daily highs in the single digits and overnight lows in the negative teens. We also received a considerable amount of freezing rain, which coated everything in ice. Wind gusts between 30 and 60 mph produced wind chills reaching -30° F during daylight hours.

Winter storms during the Polar Vortex caused considerable power outages for residential, commercial, and industrial customers, as well as sanitary sewer lift stations. This led to bypass pumping to avoid sanitary sewer overflows. We also ran into broken water mains and customer water services freezing, both indoors and outdoors.

We used Cityworks to manage water main breaks and investigations into frozen water service pipes. Cityworks allowed us to easily determine the total costs that the extreme weather caused. The GIS-centric capabilities are a plus because oftentimes we remember main breaks geographically rather than by individual address. Keeping work order information tied to GIS data is paramount for efficient maintenance practices.


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