Clearing the way

County snowplows help keep drivers safe in storms

Snow and ice removal team gets an early start

Snow is in the forecast, and the county’s snow and ice removal team is already getting prepared. By 2 a.m., a full crew of more than 60 drivers are queued-up at five stations across the county.

If the weather is just right, crews may get out to do some anti-icing work. But anti-icing only gives crews a head start. With or without it, they have to get an early start on clearing the roads because in just a few hours thousands of residents will make their way to work and school.

The snow and ice removal team has more than 2,200 lane miles of county roads to clear – roads that locals may refer to by numbers, like County Road 10, or by a more descriptive name, like Bushaway Road. Regardless of their names, these are major arterial roads that are relied upon by county residents.

Preparing for storms

The preparation for snow and ice removal begins before any winter weather is in the forecast. Hennepin County prepares its new drivers with intensive training and does regular refresher training with all staff. Crews also do dry-runs in the fall to check for potential obstacles and issues prior to snow and ice removal.

When the weather turns colder, the snow and ice removal team monitors conditions and carefully determines the best ways to deal with whatever winter weather arises. Anti-icing materials can be spread up to three days in advance to help prevent the initial bond of snow and ice to roadway surface. In many cases, crews will deice the roads using rock salt (NaCl), and they may add liquids to deicers to reduce the bounce and scatter of deicing materials. Other materials can also be added to help melt snow and ice when temperatures start to really drop.

The timing of storms can also make a difference in the county’s response. Rain before snow means anti-icing materials, if applied, might end up just washing to the sides of the road or down the storm sewer. If snow is falling when there is traffic congestion, plowing is going to take longer. It may also take longer for snow and ice to melt.

Still, crews don’t let the power of the weather keep them from doing their work. Keeping Hennepin County roads safe during the winter is our priority, and crews work in shifts until the roadways are clear.

Post-storm clean up

After a storm has passed and travel lanes are all cleared, workers take on post-storm clean up. Crews deice and remove compacted snow from the pavement, move snow farther off the roadsides to create additional spaces for snow storage, and remove snow from areas where the county is responsible for bridge sidewalks and approaches.

All of this work helps ensure that county residents and visitors can safely get where they need to go.