ST. PAUL, Minn. - One storm system down, another one dead ahead.
Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) plow drivers are cleaning up after a storm that dropped a heavy blanket of snow on the majority of the state Thursday night into Friday morning, knowing they'll just have to do it again Saturday and Sunday.
The state patrol crash numbers are a reflection of the conditions created by a snow that fell heavily and consistently from about 6 p.m. Thursday into Friday's early morning hours. Troopers responded to 137 reported crashes between midnight and 11 a.m. Friday, 27 of those involving injury. Another 193 vehicles either spun out or left the road.
Forecasters say a second system will bring between one and ten inches of snow to areas of Minnesota starting Saturday late morning, running into early Sunday morning. Heavy winds will follow the storm system, creating the potential of whiteout conditions.
MnDOT spokesman Kevin Guknecht says at the 19 truck stations across the metro the number of drivers is divided in half. and each team runs a 12 hour shift during snowstorms. Half the stations switch driver teams over at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., and the other swap at noon and midnight. The average plow run is about an hour or so before trucks come in to fill up with fuel, salt and chemicals.
In greater Minnesota not all districts run 24 hours a day. Drivers usually plow until close to midnight and then start up again early in the a.m. Times depend on what the weather is demanding. Operators may run a route two or three times, depending on the number of lanes on the route, how quickly the snow is accumulating and the amount of chemicals (salt) the driver might be distributing.
Drivers generally start by clearing the left hand lane, eventually making their way to the right lanes and shoulder. On major freeways and highways there are times that two or three plows will work together to clear all lanes in one pass. The ditch beyond the shoulder is where snow is stored.
MnDOT officials are reminding motorists that plow operators have many things to monitor and control while on a shift that stretches for hours, and their ability to see behind them is limited. The vision of plow drivers can be hampered by the snow clouds they create while plowing.
Motorists are reminded to:
- Check road conditions at www.511mn.org or call 511; it takes time to get roads back to good driving conditions.
- Be patient and remember snowplows are working to improve road conditions for your trip.
- Stay back at least 10 car lengths behind the plow, far from the snow cloud.
- Stay alert for snowplows that turn or exit frequently and often with little warning. Plows may also travel over centerlines or partially into traffic to further improve road conditions.
- Slow down to a safe speed for current conditions. Snowplows typically move at slower speeds.
The public can view winter road conditions from plow cameras available through the 511mn website. Road conditions on major highways can also be viewed through the Road Weather Information System (RWIS), which is also part of 511. These are fixed cameras at 91 locations across the state that show live rotating photos.