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posted: 4/11/2014 5:00 AM

Editorial: What we learned for all we suffered

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  • A Wheaton resident clears his driveway in early January. He and others would be out doing the same many more times before spring came.

      A Wheaton resident clears his driveway in early January. He and others would be out doing the same many more times before spring came.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Finally, a pleasantly warm week after a long season that froze into our brains terms like "polar vortex" and "misery index." Suburban residents have emerged weather-wearied but at the same time perhaps a bit tougher. Knowing that lessons often come out of trials, we found some answers to the question of what can, or should, we learn from the area's harshest winter in a lifetime?

That snow removal discussions should happen before the first flakes fly. This was punctuated by Des Plaines officials' recent complaints that business owners were failing to shovel the walks outside their buildings. By law, the responsibility for some 27 miles of walks belongs to them. Officials say they'll send out reminders this fall about fines for those who don't comply -- a proactive approach that's more fair to all.

That transit should better prepare for the worst. The week of Jan. 5 hasn't been forgotten by Metra customers who faced long waits in the cold due to iced rail switches that delayed trains. Contrite Metra and railroad officials are taking steps to avoid future service meltdowns including buying heaters and heavy-duty blowing machines to clear snow.

That patience is a virtue and creativity a necessity. The high school spring sports season officially started in mid-March when fields still were snow covered. Soccer, baseball, tennis and softball coaches did what they could to get their teams in shape, as reported by Mike Miazga. Some teams used parking lots and junior high gyms while others held practices at 6 a.m. to get gym time. "We're able to work on individual ball skills," Larkin girls soccer coach Ken Hall said. "At times it gets a little repetitive ... but you make the best of it." Burlington Central softball coach Wade Maisto scheduled a doubleheader in an indoor dome to be sure all the games would fit into a shortened season.

That for all of Mother Nature's wrath, she has a merciful side. The roadside mountains of snow would have to melt, and a couple of 60-degree days in February would have put flood-prone areas literally in deep water. As spring neared, the piles began to disappear with mild temperatures during the day, while freezing temperatures at night slowed the process and runoff was carried away largely unnoticed.

That shoveling others' sidewalks doesn't go unnoticed. We published many letters from residents thanking neighbors and secret do-gooders who did double duty this year. An Arlington Heights couple wrote, "Being seniors we appreciate this more than words can express."

But people also noticed when community walks were neglected, sending walkers into plowed streets. A flurry of emails to Transportation Writer Marni Pyke showed the concern about the safety of kids waiting for buses and residents walking their dogs.

That snowy-day funds pay off. Not every municipality budgets for a winter like this year's, but those that did had the advantage. Facing nearly double the usual weekend snowstorms, Arlington Heights was ready for the overtime costs. "We are fortunate enough to have a contingency account for expenses just like this," Village Manager Bill Dixon said.

Other towns exceeded the year's overtime budget by the first week of February. As for salt, scattered towns had enough and didn't pay premium prices to get more. Others were learning by midwinter how to conserve -- not a bad lesson for any year.

That spring eventually comes. So bring in the once-frozen Christmas decorations believing that if a "worst winter ever" returns, we know how better to meet the challenges of such an extreme situation.

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