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'January thaw' leads to uptick in crashes, rise in water levels

Last Updated Jan 11, 2018 at 11:16 pm EDT

Photo credit: Wellington County OPP.

The ‘January thaw’ is here – with heavy rain and warmer temperatures already hitting Waterloo Region and surrounding areas earlier this week.

The conditions have kept Wellington County OPP busy, and even prompted a local flood watch to be issued.

The Low Level Bridge on Three Bridges Road in Woolwich was shut down late Thursday due to rising water levels.

Cam Linwood with the Grand River Conservation Authority says conditions are expected to improve throughout Friday, but they’ll continue to monitor the forecast.

“We saw a little less rainfall than we expected to on Thursday, and temperatures are expected to cool off late Friday afternoon. What that should do is essentially turn off the tap, or slow things down a little bit. So some of the closures – such as Three Bridges Road – should end as the flow is expected to back off quite quickly.”

Linwood adds it’s not uncommon for rising water levels in the Conestogo River to result in a closure of that bridge.

“The river crossing on Three Bridges Road has a very low threshold. So as soon as the flows get up above 35 cubic metres per second, the road becomes impacted – and that’s why you see closures happen there more often than other parts of the watershed.”

The GRCA is also currently seeing a few different situations occur when it comes to ice in the rivers, and on their reservoirs.

“Because of the warm temperatures, the ice has eroded quite significantly, so we want people to stay back – and that goes for their kids and pets too. The other piece that we’re looking at is ice jams – with warmer temperatures, it can break up that ice a little bit, and we’re certainly trying to monitor and look out for those.”

Linwood adds that this is all pretty standard, as it’s not unheard of to have a flood watch issued in January.

“We quite often see a bit of a ‘January thaw’ that occurs around this time, although of course it doesn’t happen every year. But it is the way things are going so far this year, with the extreme cold and now a warmer spell, and we’re expecting those temperatures to drop back down again very shortly.”

Meantime, the recent blast of warmer temperatures has OPP in Wellington County issuing a safety reminder.

Constable Marylou Schwindt says about 28 crashes were reported overnight Wednesday when the weather started changing.

“We’re seeing a lot of motorists in the ditch, and low-impact collisions – nothing too serious, or incidents where someone was seriously injured. Obviously this time of year, temperatures are fluctuating quite a bit. So we need drivers to be aware of the changing road conditions, and be prepared for it.”

Another issue arrives when there are no hazardous weather and road conditions – as Schwindt says drivers seem to get a little too excited.

“When the roads are clear, speeds start to increase. Motorists need to be aware that road conditions can change very quickly though – if the weather drops a degree or two, that wet road can become an icy road. So despite the fact that it may look clear or dry – always keep your speed at where it should be.”

Schwindt adds that we also need to keep our eyes peeled for cyclists and pedestrians when we experience this kind of warmer weather.

“Also look out for kids playing on these big snow banks we have right now. I’ve seen quite a few children out there building little tunnels and forts – and hopefully they’re staying away from the edge of the roads – but as motorists, just be cautious of that and keep your eyes open for them.”

OPP are also reminding motorists to go slow, leave extra stopping distance, use caution, and “do not become another statistic”.