Snow-plow image

UPDATED Jan. 8: Town spokeswoman Joan Roman, citing Department of Public Works Director Michael Rademacher, said Monday that the snowfall estimate for Arlington from the previous weekend's storm is 7 to 8 inches. For comparison's sake, per a Boston Globe app, here are snowfall totals for four contiguous communities from Saturday night through Sunday afternoon: Cambridge 2 inches, Lexington 9.6 inches, Medford 6.2 inches, Winchester 5.5 inches.

By email to YourArlington, Roman also wrote, "DPW crews were sent home early this morning [Monday, Jan. 8] to rest after completing clearing the streets. Then per usual, they [will] return and take care of any trouble areas. With the [relatively] warm weather and rains predicted, they will also be clearing catch basins to reduce the risk of localized flooding, which is expected with the current forecast. Because there are more than 3K storm drains, DPW can never get to them all, and we can always use help getting the word out about the importance to Adopt a Drain."

That town website page states, in part, "In partnership with the Mystic River Watershed (MyWRA), Arlington’s Adopt-a-Drain program asks volunteers to take care of storm drains (catch basins) to prevent street flooding and pollution in local waterbodies. Volunteers check on the drain before and after heavy rain, wind or snow."

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency gave similar advice today via social media. "As you shovel out, don’t forget to clear snow, ice and debris from any storm drains/downspouts near your property to allow water to flow through. Another high-impact storm expected tomorrow night [Tuesday, Jan. 9] is forecast to bring heavy rain, which combined with snowmelt may lead to flooding."

Arlington has updated its resource and regulations page but did not call a snow emergency or parking ban. In general, authorities continue to urge caution when driving because of residual snow and ice.

According to the Town of Arlington website, in part, just after 1 p.m. Jan. 7, “Public Works continues snow and ice removal operations across Arlington and will work into the evening to address another band of snow coming to the area this afternoon. This storm will be followed by dropping temperatures, so take care when removing snow. The town is not calling a parking ban but continues to ask residents to park off street and limit their travel during the town’s snow and ice removal operations.” The town's previous message, from Saturday afternoon, may still be relevant. “Winter storms may include a range of precipitation from snow to freezing rain, and these conditions increase the chances of power outages, downed trees and flooding. [According to social media and Sunday's police log, one such instance of downed wires has occurred on Gray Street.] If you experience a power outage, please print, or otherwise make available the following list of phone numbers. Public Works will begin snow removal operations [Saturday] evening and continue well into [Sunday. No snow emergencies/parking bans are anticipated. If conditions change, the town will send an update. During a storm, all are encouraged to exercise caution when traveling and park off-street to assist snow removal operations. After a storm, residents and businesses are reminded to keep public walkways clear in accordance with town bylaws and not push snow into the street.” 
Report downed electrical wires: call 911 and Eversource at 1-800-592-2000. 
Report a power outage to Eversource at 1-800-592-2000 or at
Report a downed street tree or limb to DPW dispatch at 781-316-3301.” 

Local preparations began in December

 A month ago, when the first few snowflakes of the season fell, the town of Arlington's Department of Public Works placed sand barrels around town for residents who want to add grit to icy patches. The town has also tackled a regional shortage of snowplow drivers by offering a guaranteed base salary to private contractors who agree to plow for Arlington. WBUR’s story gives more information on the plan.

With the minimum guaranteed earnings of $3,500 for the season, the town is “trying to encourage people” who have the right equipment to sign on to plow for the town, Rademacher told YourArlington. The town’s guarantee means that plow drivers at least won’t have to eat the cost of insuring their equipment for the season if it doesn’t snow; the hourly rate after the guaranteed minimum depends on the type of equipment -- and plow drivers must work in all storms they are called for.

According to the DPW page on the town’s website, in a full-scale winter-storm operation, “over 2/3 of the equipment on the streets will be private contractors working for the town.” 

Details for contractors who are interested are available here 

Keeping roads, sidewalks safe

On the whole, not much snow fell last winter, and Rademacher acknowledged that “there seem to be fewer people” looking to work as plow drivers. At the same time, warmer winters aren’t necessarily easier or cheaper for public works. Storms like last year’s, in which the temperature kept lurching back and forth across the freezing point, mean that “you have to keep adding [deicing] product” to the streets, he explained.  

Plows can’t operate around parked cars, so residents can expect a temporary street parking ban to be instituted any time that 2 or more inches of snow are forecast. Rademacher encourages readers to sign up for Arlington Alerts, which can be done via this page of the town website so they’ll know when they need to get cars off the street. As well, information about any declared snow emergencies generally will also be posted at the town’s website landing page.

On sidewalks, romantic-looking fresh snow can easily turn into an ice slick once people have walked over it for a few hours. Town bylaws on removing snow and ice from sidewalks can be found here >> Town residents who live on a corner must also clear a path from the sidewalk to the street.

If they seek assistance dealing with snow, older residents can call the Council on Aging at 781-316-3400; the LINKS program, matching Ottoson Middle School students with seniors in their neighborhood, may be able to help with shoveling.

Dealing with snow ecologically

Keeping surfaces free of ice involves calculations and tradeoffs for the town and for residents alike. Surface treatments and plowed snow, with its rich blend of pollutants, mostly end up in waterways, which is one reason the town has used less sand in recent years. According to the Mystic River Watershed Association, sand “can clog catch basins and cause flooding. It can also carry other pollutants into our waterways.” Residents who want to reduce their environmental impact can see this and other advice here>>

Among the tips:Use acetate-based de-icer (sodium acetate, potassium acetate and calcium magnesium acetate) instead of chloride-based (sodium chloride, calcium chloride, and magnesium chloride). Follow product instructions and only use as much de-icer as you need. More is not better. For heavy snowfalls, shovel early and often to avoid the snow compacting and forming ice. For wet snow or sleet and freezing rain, apply deicer product early on to prevent snow from bonding or ice from building up.”

Rademacher noted that for several years now, the town has added Ice Ban, a liquid by-product of the fermentation process for molasses, to the salt it spreads on roads. “It makes the salt work more efficiently at lower temperatures, and keeps it from bouncing around as much.” 

Some 18 pairs of gently used boots on sale last month at the Fox and Robbin Shop in East Arlington. / Catherine Brewster photo

Staying warm and dry

A strong and ongoing El Niño has already helped make 2023 officially the warmest year on record.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s “winter outlook,” released at the end of October, projects higher-than-average precipitation in New England.

Whether that means a rainy or possibly a very snowy winter -- like 2015 with its infamous eight feet of snow in four weeks -- depends on where temperatures land day by day. This is not much consolation for those new to or simply averse to sub-freezing winter weather. 

Indispensable for playing in the snow are waterproof boots, snow pants and mittens, as well as a hooded parka and warm hat. Meeting this standard with all-brand-new items does not come cheap, so a place to start to look for gently used ones is the Fox and Robbin Shop, inside and toward the back of the Edith M. Fox Library, 175 Mass. Ave., East Arlington. Money spent there helps support the libraries.

Adults not planning to play in the snow generally can do without the snow pants -- and might need to remove hats and scarves temporarily if they are outside shoveling for any length of time. For less strenuous pursuits, wearing long underwear and other layering can keep one as warm as bulky snow gear. But when any ice is on the ground, especially black ice -- which can look like ordinary wet pavement -- the most important safety gear might be boots with good traction.

March 14, 2023: Snow emergency, parking ban ends March 15

This article/photograph by YourArlington freelance writer Catherine Brewster was published Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023. It was updated the next day, to add a subheadline at the top noting that additional snow plow drivers are still sought and for minor editing. It was updated Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, with links relating to the snowfall predicted for the weekend, Thursday, Jan. 4, with a link to the National Weather Service, and Friday, Jan. 5, to say that NWS is predicting snow in eastern Massachusetts, which includes Arlington, by 10 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 6. It was updated Sunday, Jan. 7, with what was known at early morning about snowfall totals, and the same was true Monday, Jan. 8, when information about clearing catch basins, downspouts and storm drains also was added.