You may have fully recovered from the cold and snow last winter, but the winter budgets of Minnesota government agencies are still reeling from the extra work.

The statewide snowfall average was 97.2 inches, the result of 31 snow events during the 2018-19 winter season. Those storms created a statewide Winter Severity Index score of 154, nearly 40 points higher than during 2017-18 and the most severe since MnDOT began tracking a severity level this way, according to a MnDOT news release.

All that snow meant winter costs ran significantly higher than previous years at the local and state level during the 2018-19 winter season. The storms that pounded our area put a hurting on county and city budgets as well. When looking at costs associated with winter, the biggest factor is people that have to be paid to work extra hours or overtime hours during a significant weather event. Also in the mix is salt, sand and equipment needed to keep those roads and walkways cleared.

Wadena County's fiscal budget is in line with the calendar year, so the 2018 winter costs at the county reached $641,128.99. That was a nearly 23 percent jump over the 2017 winter costs. A look at the 2019 costs incurred showed an 18 percent jump over the previous year's period, according to Wadena County Highway department staff.

Those costs at the city level were also high, according to Wadena Public Works director Dan Kovar.

"We're not sitting very well right now," Kovar said while looking over those winter costs from the 2018-19 season. He pointed to the regular heavy snowfalls last year as main contributors.

"We've already used -- over used -- our wage allotment," Kovar said, overused fuel and overused overtime hours. "We are in the negative."

Things could have been worse. According to Kovar, the city got a heavy discount on salt last season after one of the salt vendors had a stockpile shed roof collapse. They had to move the material quickly, so the city bought the discounted product to cover the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

A shoveler takes a break from clearing snow at the end of December 2018 in Wadena to watch the snow pile on.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
A shoveler takes a break from clearing snow at the end of December 2018 in Wadena to watch the snow pile on. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

The Minnesota Department of Transportation spent nearly $133 million dollars to clear roads during the 2018-19 winter season and crews faced some of the most severe weather in the state in a decade, according to a MnDOT winter maintenance report released in August.

“The Winter Maintenance Report helps tell the story very clearly: with the fifth-largest roadway system in the country and more extreme weather conditions than most states, it costs a lot of money to maintain transportation infrastructure and keep people moving in Minnesota,” said Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher.

The annual report breaks down fiscal year costs, winter severity, snow totals and other factors. Statistics are separated by each of MnDOT’s eight transportation districts to show the variety of impact across the state.

The Winter Severity Index compares nine factors that affect snow and ice removal, including temperature, hours of snowfall, blowing snow and precipitation type.

“Snowfall amounts don’t tell the whole story about the challenges MnDOT crews face during winter,” said Jed Falgren, acting state maintenance engineer. “Every area of the state experienced more hours of snowfall compared to the previous winter. Road and air temperature averages were down and hours of freezing rain were up – those elements have a huge impact on how quickly we can clear roads.”

Falgren said snowplow drivers worked more than 198,000 hours of overtime during the 2018-19 winter and exceeded the bare lane target goals for all road classifications within 36 hours after a snow event.

MnDOT used less road salt and sand during the 2018-19 season compared to the previous winter, applying more liquid chemicals, such as potassium acetate, BEET HEET, Apex-C and RG8. The chemicals proved to enhance the performance of road salt during extreme conditions, which led to routes being cleared faster and with less material.