November 9th, 2011

SNOW SCHOOL

Preserve Infrastructure, by Catherine Higgins.

Men and women who work to keep state roads clear of snow and ice during winter months meet to yearly to share ideas and hear about new technologies.

Ralph Hilsman, Jeff Walker, Lloyd Muhlestein and Travis Jeppsen work at Station 1423. “They care,” says Muhlestein about Snow School presenters. He appreciates the chance to learn from other employees and also share what he has learned during his extensive 23 years of experience at UDOT.

UDOT Central Maintenance conducts yearly training meetings for snow removal crews. While some informally call it “Snow School,” the meeting is an information exchange rather than just instruction from the top down.

Equipment Safety Training Manager and former “shed guy” Curtis Sanchez coordinates the one-day training in all UDOT regions. About 700 employees attend to get reminders, updates and new information about winter operations.

UDOT crews need to be proficient at using weather information and a variety of snow removal equipment and road anti-icing agents specific to a location within Utah. When a new winter operations approach is added to the mix, the weather team and Central Maintenance counts on getting good feedback from the crews who use the new approach on the snow removal front lines.

The day-long event is “shop to shop communications,” says Maintenance Supervisor Lloyd Muhlestein. “It’s all about equipment, the weather and what worked last year.”

Talking weather

“We’re here to support you,” says UDOT Weather Information Systems Manager Leigh Sturges, who works with a team of seven meteorologists on duty 24-7 to gather, report and forecast weather conditions. UDOT uses the Road Weather Information System to collect weather data on state roads, air temperature, road temperature, solar radiation and humidity. Some RWIS stations detect anti-icing agents on the road and some have remote controlled cameras to view the surrounding areas.

Sturges uses regular email updates and the RWIS website to monitor conditions and the progression of storms. If a conditions change unexpectedly, supervisors get a phone call from a meteorologist – even if conditions change late at night or early in the morning.

The weather team is working on expanding and improving weather gathering equipment, and works directly with maintenance station personnel to identify places for new or mobile RWIS stations or other devices that detect road conditions.

Equipment

UDOT has over 500 trucks that are used to plow roads during winter. Trucks are expected to have a useful life of least 14 years. UDOT Central Maintenance puts a lot of emphasis on taking care of equipment.

New tankers mix water and salt into a slurry that's less likely to bounce or blow off of the road.

New tow plows and “first responder” tanks have been added to UDOT’s snow arsenal. Tow plows attach to the side of a truckand double the road area that can be plowed. The tanks combine salt and water before depositing the slurry-like mix on the road in front of a storm. Wetting the salt is a much more effective approach for keeping roads clear since dry salt can bounce or blow off the road.

This year, the Provo Canyon crew will use a triple blade plow equipped with an ice breaker, a squeegee and a standard blade. Each blade can be adjusted independently from the truck cab, and the blades can be used alone or in any combination. Along with new anti-icing agents, crews in Provo Canyon should be able to improve snow removal operations where some areas “never see the sun in winter,” says Sanchez.

Keeping it real

Sanchez and staff from UDOT Central Maintenance keep the topics current and relevant in order to provide the most help and support possible to UDOT road maintenance crews.

“They care,” says Muhlestein about Snow School presenters. “There are a lot of things we forget about during the summer.” He appreciates the chance to learn from other employees and also share what he has learned during his extensive 23 years of experience at UDOT.

 

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