Iowa DOT snowfighters on duty for your safety

US 69 east of Clarion 915amIowa Department of Transportation snowfighters have one of the toughest winter jobs imaginable. While most of us are warm and dry in our homes, these men and women are called out at all hours of the day and night to work in the worst Iowa weather conditions.

The Iowa DOT currently has more than 900 full time and 450 temporary employees working out of our 109 maintenance garages. They operate approximately 900 trucks, 50 motor graders and 12 heavy-duty, self-propelled snow blowers to keep you safer on the road.

Balancing how many snowfighters to call and when to call them is the job of the highway maintenance supervisor in each area. Since typically each supervisor oversees more than one garage, they receive support from a garage operations assistant and/or a senior  equipment operator. Brien Keltner, highway maintenance supervisor for the Anamosa and Marion garages says an accurate forecast is key to calling in the right people at the right time to fight a storm.

“As supervisors, we rely heavily on the weather forecasting service contracted by the DOT. We also have a number of other tools we use to see what other shops already dealing with the storm are doing. I can look at the internal version of the track-a-plow website and see how many plows are out and what materials they are using in areas currently impacted by the storm. The supervisors work together to get the word out about the specifics of what they are dealing with. We talk a lot during a storm, either on the phone or online, to let each other know what we’re seeing.”

Since many of the snowfighters are called in on nights and weekends, balancing work hours is a major challenge. “For the on-call part time people,” said Keltner, “I have a list of when they typically can work. When I see a storm coming, one of us will call them to check their actual availability and then will call them a again when we need them to come in. There’s a lot of communication and coordination that has to happen to make sure we have enough staff to cover what we need to do.”

Here are some tips on what you can do to help keep these dedicated people safe as they are working to clear your roads.

1. Don’t crowd the plow. Snowplows plow far and wide—sometimes very wide. The front plow extends several feet in front of the truck and may cross the centerline and shoulders during plowing operations.

2. Snowplows travel much slower than the posted speeds while removing snow and ice from the roads. Plows typically travel at 25 to 35 mph. When you spot a plow, allow plenty of time to slow down.

3. Don’t tailgate or stop too close behind snowplows. Snowplows are usually spreading deicing materials from the back of the truck and may need to stop or take evasive action to avoid stranded vehicles. If you find yourself behind a snowplow, stay behind it or use caution when passing. The road behind a snowplow is safer to drive on than the road ahead of it.

4. On multiple lane roads, watch for snowplows operating in either lane. Snowplows may also work in groups so they can plow multiple lanes in one pass.

5. Don’t travel beside a plow for long periods. When plowing through a snowdrift or packed snow, the impact can move the truck sideways.

6. Snowplows can throw up a cloud of snow that can reduce your visibility to zero in less time than you can react. Drive smart. Never drive into a snow cloud- it could conceal a snowplow

7. A snowplow operator’s field of vision is restricted. You may see them but they may not see you

8. Plows turn and exit the road frequently. Give them plenty of room.

Snowplow driver diagram

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