Missouri residents may have done a double take at the sight of snow plows driving down the road in mostly dry and fair conditions Thursday.
The occasion for the display of heavy duty state owned machinery was the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) annual winter operation drill.
MoDOT districts across the state activated their emergency operations centers and deployed snowplow trucks in response to a simulated “significant” snowfall event. More than 3,200 MoDOT employees are involved in the operation, including every maintenance crew across the state, according State Maintenance Engineer Becky Allmeroth.
In addition, the state hires additional drivers who are used as needed in extreme conditions. All drivers must have Commercial Driver Licenses (CDL) and are on call around-the-clock from November 1st thru the end of March annually.
Maintenance Supervisor Kyle Fischer at MoDOT’s Central District in Jefferson City says crews gather for a safety meeting in the morning on the day of the drill, where issues such as changes to roadways are discussed.
“If there’s new curbs that have been put or, or a new bridge, obstacles out on the roadway, when it’s snowing you don’t see those things,” said Fischer. “We go through all that, and we show pictures and (discuss) our guidance, and how we’re going to plow snow this year.”
In addition to the one-day drill, MoDOT employees complete an annual winter skills training which is used as a refresher course for plowing snow. The agency says it’s a precautionary measure to make sure employees are properly operating machinery and using safety measures in the job.
Fischer says the job of plowing snow is an extremely dangerous one.
“You’re out there in the worst weather possible, so you can’t see where you’re going. You have lots of traffic around you that you have to watch out for, people slipping and sliding, car wrecks. If you have to stop your vehicle because you broke down or something happened to it, you have to get out and work on it. “So you have to worry about people sliding and running into you.”
MoDOT says every piece of equipment is inspected to ensure it’s operational for the drill. For the dry run, the agency’s employees are deployed to 1,500 trucks.
MoDOT Central District driver Wesley Prenger says that during snow or ice storms, a mixture of ingredients are spread onto the roadway from the trucks.
“We spread a 50-50% mix, which is a salt and sand mix that goes outside the city limits,” said Prenger. “And then inside the city limits we spread pure salt, so that would be 100% salt.”
Most years, about 137,000 tons of salt is needed. Last year, the state stock-piled 220,000 tons of salt at locations across the state.
During the winter drill, snow plow drivers travel the 34,000 miles of road the state is charged to maintain. The routes encompass everything from interstate highways to lettered county roads. Emergency communications systems are also tested during the dry run.
One piece of equipment which won’t be part of the drill is the tow plow. It’s a trailer towed by the truck, which is equipped with a plow that can move in diagonal directions to plow adjacent lanes of traffic.
A MoDOT employee invented the tow plow, which is increasingly being used in other states as well. In Missouri, tow plows are mostly deployed in the metro Kansas City and St. Louis areas where highways are often three to five lanes wide on one side.
The Missouri Department of Transportation says it annually spends an average of $45 million to keep roads clear in the winter.