DICKINSON, N.D. - Much of North Dakota has already experienced a bit of winter weather this month, and the state Department of Transportation did its best to stay ahead of the winter storms by preparing weeks and months ahead.
Preparing for winter is a year-round process, said Aaron Auer, maintenance coordinator for the NDDOT's Dickinson district. Salt is typically ordered in July and then workers start fine-tuning the trucks and getting things ready.
It cost the state about $24.2 million during the 2016-17 winter season to deal with snow and ice, including equipment, labor and material. The cost was about $17.5 million in 2015-16.
A total of 350 snowplows at a cost of about $200,000 each are used throughout the state, according to the NDDOT. Most of the DOT's 39 plow trucks are about the same size, but there are also a few larger trucks, said Rob Rayhorn, Dickinson district engineer. One of the larger trucks is snow-blower-type vehicle that helps clean out areas such as overpasses that may fill up with snow during a blizzard.
Thirty-two tow plows will be used this winter. Each tow plow, which are trailer-mounted plows pulled by a snowplow truck, costs approximately $140,000 and can carry up to 2,000 gallons of liquids. The department also has a bidirectional tow plow.
The combination of snowplow trucks and tow plows can clear a much wider path than a single snowplow.
"That's why people have to be really careful when they're passing a plow," Rayhorn said. "Especially when you have that tow plow, you have the plow in one lane, but it's got that tow plow in the other lane and you can't assume you know which lane the plow is in."
He said it is also important to be vigilant and patient around snow plows. People should turn on their lights and drive according to the road conditions.
Auer said 90 percent of the time the department only uses salt on the roads when it starts to get icy, but sometimes a mixture of salt and brine is used, which works faster.
"(Sometimes) we'll do anti-icing," he said. "If we've got a weather event that's coming in with freezing rain that's predicted or a snow event with wet, heavy snow where it'll compact on the road, we'll try and get ahead of it and put down some salt brine. ... Think of it like cooking spray for the road. (You don't want) food sticking to the pan. Well, we don't want ice to bond to the road."
The NDDOT and the Highway Patrol work together to determine when to issue travel advisories during the winter, but the decision is ultimately up to the Highway Patrol when to close roads, Rayhorn said.
Multiple tools are available for people to get up-to-date weather information before they hit the road during a winter storm:
• The NDRoads app, which is available for free download at the Apple iTunes store and through Google Play
• The NDDOT's travel information map that can be accessed at www.dot.nd.gov. This includes real-time cameras available to view actual road conditions at any time of day.
• GovDelivery, where people can sign up for the "Message Center" to receive important emails or texts about travel information. This can be accessed at www.dot.nd.gov/govdelivery/landing.htm
• Call 511 for the most up-to-date road conditions.