State Police: Multi-car crashes the result of weather and unpredictable drivers
Michigan State Police are warning drivers: If you run into trouble on the road during this wintry blast, be prepared to wait.
"It can take an extra amount of time to get responders to those crashes, depending on the volume we are seeing," said First Lt. Dale Hinz with the Michigan State Police.
State troopers responded to at least least three multi-vehicle pileups before noon Wednesday.
"It is difficult to keep up with them," Hinz said. "We typically try to get additional staffing out on days like today, so we don't have people waiting in the freezing cold like we are experiencing."
In the bitter cold and fast-falling snow, lights and sirens don't do much to help emergency responders get around.
"We can only respond so quickly," Hinz said, "depending on the roadway conditions we are bound to those challenges as well."
Hinz is the commander of the sate police Paw Paw post, which sits off Interstate 94, along one of the most treacherous stretches in the state.
The Michigan Department of Transportation runs plows out of seven operations centers to serve seven counties in the southwest region.
"I-94 through Van Buren County is statically the hardest hit in the winter," said MDOT spokesman Nick Schirripa.
Between the Kalamazoo and Coloma garages, the closest home base for MDOT plows is 20-plus miles from that stretch in Van Buren County that sees the most snow and crashes in the region.
Plows departing from those garages meet in the middle, in Van Buren County, but that doesn't mean that stretch waits for plows to get out there, Schirripa said. "You're running a circle, so regardless of where you start at some point you're coming back to the same spot over and over again."
This weather has been a challenge, he said.
"It's hard to keep up, anybody who has shoveled their driveway before when it's snowing knows that by the time you're done you've already got snow accumulated where you started and that's only, you know, 30-40 feet," Schirripa said.
Just about all of MDOT's 83 plows for the southwest region are out on the roads, working nonstop since Christmas Eve.
Hinz said to avoid pile ups, drivers need to slow down and leave plenty of room to stop.
"I don't think it has to do with the number of plows, it has to do with the amount of lake effect snow," Hinz said.
Road conditions and driver error lead to pile ups and slide offs, it's not either-or, Hinz said.
MDOT uses software that gathers forecasts, road surface temperatures, wind speeds and wild chills in the effort to keep plows ahead of the snow. But drivers can be more unpredictable that the weather, which is why Hinz said everyone on the road needs to be prepared.
"Look well down the road while you're driving so that you can start braking early so you don't have to slam the brakes and become part of the problem yourself," Hinz said.