MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Minnesota Department of Transportation is taking forecasts of a snowstorm Saturday seriously.
Last month the transportation department came under fire during an ice storm, when it admitted it was caught off-guard. The union that represents the state’s snow plow operators said MnDOT didn’t call them in soon enough because the department wanted to save money.
But Friday evening, they are already deep in preparation for what could be a significant and dangerous storm Saturday.
They’ve checked the lights and the plows, tuned up the engines and loaded the salt. Ahead of what’s expected to be the biggest storm of the winter so far, at MnDOT, it’s “all hands on deck.”
“We’re always prepared for the worst,” said Mark Fischbach, MnDOT Clear Roads Superintendent.
At MnDOT garages all around the state, preparations are underway, no matter how bad it gets. The trick is figuring out where it will hit the hardest.
“It’s just a prediction. You know, it could change by 50 miles and it could cover the whole metro,” added Fischbach.
Depending on the storm’s track, there is a significant threat.
The Department of Public Safety is most concerned about southwestern and southern Minnesota, and the possibility of closed freeways, stranded motorists and power outages.
“Any time that there is going to be a freeway closure, there might be people stranded. We work closely with the counties to find out what they need,” said Doug Neville with the Minn. Dept. of Public Safety.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety is already in contact with emergency officials around the state. They are prepared to offer assistance, even shelter, if necessary.
“If you are traveling, plan ahead. Are there hotels along the way? The communities will need to look if we need to shut any freeways down. Will there be a need to shelter people? What will we do with the people who might be stranded in our area,” said Neville.
The people who run Minnesota’s snow plow operations are already on the job.
“Full crews on, 24 hours a day through this event,” said Fischbach.
In the Twin Cities alone, 237 plows will be on the road this weekend. If the storm is as significant as predicted, there may be even more.
“If we get a large volume of snow we’re gonna have to start using our snow blowers and so forth towards the end of this storm,” said Fischbach.
In Hennepin County, plow truck drivers will be working in 12-hour shifts on 68 routes throughout, according to Chris Sagsveen, Road and Bridge Operations Manager for the county’s transportation department.
“After the initial shift, we’ll bring in a second shift tomorrow (Saturday) afternoon and if it continues like they’re predicting, we’ll come out again on Sunday morning,” said Sagsveen.
One of the weapons in Hennepin County’s snow-fighting arsenal is a pre-wetting kit, which has been added to 23 of the county’s 70 plows.
“It wets the salt prior to its application on the road and helps the salt stick,” explained Sagsveen.
Across the state, roads have already been treated with anti-icing chemicals and the plows have been positioned for maximum effectiveness.
The biggest worry is drivers who might get in the way.
“If you don’t need to go out and the storm gets as severe as they are talking about, stay home. Stay comfortable,” said Fischbach.
To people who have to go out on the roads, Fischbach said to be cautious and give plow operators room to work.
Snow plows weigh 30,000 pounds each. When fully loaded they can weigh between 40,000 and 60,000 pounds — 10 times the weight of an ordinary car.
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