With Winter Arriving, Snow Operations Team Ready to Clear Roads
By Whitley Pleas When Lake Forest residents wake up to find the streets dusted with snow, few are aware that the city’s Snow Operations team has been hard at work for hours. In the winter, the Lake Forest Snow Operations team often works long extended hours -- even up to 16-hour shifts -- plowing snow and removing ice on roads, sidewalks and parking lots. Their goal? Ensuring that all roads in Lake Forest are safe for that first morning -- or evening -- commute.
Matt Brugioni (left) and Corey Wierema lead the Snow Operations team, which is prepared to clear the snow in Lake Forest whenever it falls.
Led by Streets Supervisor Matt Brugioni and City Forestry Supervisor Corey Wierema, the Snow Ops team boasts a roster of nearly 60 employees but typically consists of about 30 active participants during any given snowfall workday. Brugioni and Wierema -- who have been in their roles for four and five years, respectively -- emphasize that the planning that goes into snow removal is not as simple as one would think.
“You’re taking into context multiple weather forecasts and then developing appropriate response schedules,” Wierema said. “There’s a lot more that goes into responding to a snow event than just plugging an employee into a snow-plow route.”
Additionally, the long hours that Brugioni, Wierema, and their team endure during winters shows their dedication to effective planning and ensuring safety for Lake Forest residents.
“For most overnight snow events, most of our crews usually start at 1 a.m.,” Brugioni said. “Corey and I will usually go home at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. after work and we’ll take a quick cat-nap and then we’re usually up and monitoring the weather at 8 p.m.”
Overall, the snow-operations team handles 105 miles of sidewalks, 240 miles of paved roadway and 37 lane miles of Illinois Routes 43 and 60. While the state was initially responsible for snow and ice removal on Illinois Routes 43 and 60, City Manager Jason Wicha approached Public Works about taking it over in 2020 due to a lack of timely service.
“I think our residents have seen a big upside in service-level improvement to us taking that over,” Brugioni said.
When asked about the worst storm they had ever experienced, Brugioni and Wierema instead offered the type of storm that consistently requires a more aggressive approach: longer storms. While storms with more snow require less effort, as the snow can all be removed at once, long storms that involve freezing roads and random bouts of snowfall cause the most problems for the supervisors and their team.
Wierema describes how flash freezes -- where the pavement temperatures are just at the borderline of freezing -- black ice and air-temperature changes are the most difficult to handle for his team. Long storms where precipitation will transform from snow to rain to sleet create huge challenges.
“It’s the icing events that always worry me the most,” Wierema said.
Nonetheless, even the most difficult snowstorms have proven less difficult to handle in recent years, thanks to technological advances and Brugioni and Wierema’s updated approach to snow and ice removal: Using different environmentally conscious chemicals to treat the roads better, computer systems in the trucks that ensure accurate ground temperature reads and more preparation for storms.
It’s a true team effort designed to meet the needs of residents. Noted Assistant to the Director of Public Works Jim Lockefeer, “Residents expect to be able to safely travel the roads in Lake Forest any time of day. These guys do a good job of meeting that expectation.”