Texas Emergency Management ONLINE 2015 Vol. 62 No. 12

Texas Department of Transportation and Winter Weather Preparedness

TxDOT Logo

Folks in Minnesota may chuckle a bit when we here in Texas start talking about winter preparedness. Funny pictures of Texans trying to drive around in a bit of snow circulate across social media pages and the Internet. However, winter in Texas can be significant, costly and dangerous from time to time. In fact, the last two winters for North Texas and as far south as the Rio Grande Valley have proven to be a lot to deal with.

About this time every year, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) begins its preparedness routine for the winter months in Texas. Keeping 193,925 lane miles and 79,791 center lane miles of roadway clear and safe can be a daunting task.

Some of the first planning activities to occur are meetings with many of our surrounding states. Changes to state laws and department policies that pertain to travel in each state are some of the main topics. For example, plans are made to determine the best methods and timing to broadcast warnings and alerts on other statesí dynamic message boards. To the west, meetings are held with New Mexico and Arizona concerning the Interstate 10 corridor. A focus of concern for west Texas is the limited number lodging choices available along I-10 in these parts of New Mexico and Texas. If there are highway closures due to ice and snow, people traveling to Texas from California or Arizona would need to know this and make arrangements before they go to New Mexico or into the West Texas desert.

Other meetings with our surrounding states focus on concerns of the I-40 corridor and travel issues into and out of the Texas Panhandle from the east, west and north. Meeting with northern states include issues about the I-35 corridor and with eastern states about the I-30 corridor, which includes the I-20 corridor.

Internal meetings for TxDOT planners are held to discuss winter weather preparedness. Current weather plans are reviewed as well as equipment and staffing needs and issues.

TxDOT Loading

Crews across the state inspect equipment to make sure it is ready to be deployed in the event of severe winter weather. Snow plows are inspected and maintenance is performed on the vehicles, blades and spreaders. Also, salt piles are inventoried no later than October. TxDOT stations keep enough salt on hand to be able to treat area roadways for 24 hours a day over a four-day period. If the winter conditions last longer than that, which is rare, TxDOT keeps strategic salt piles in unaffected areas ready to be brought in if necessary.

Other preparatory activities include personnel training. Newly-hired staff, as well as staff who live in other regions of the state, attend snow plow simulator training. If there is a need, able staff from unaffected areas of the state can be brought in to help clear roads. To TxDOT, winter storm planning is similar to hurricane planning in regards to how staff and equipment are staged for deployment.

TxDOT Truck

The last two winters in Texas presented some unexpected consequences to deal with, one of which was the massive amount of cobblestone ice in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. This wasnít predicted and TxDOT didnít have the equipment to deal with it on such a scale, so four-wheel drive motor graders from Texas A&M Forest Service, normally used when creating fire breaks, were brought in to help clear it out. TxDOT typically keeps only two-wheel drive motor graders on hand.

One of the new procedures adopted by TxDOT is using liquid brine before winter ice or snow begins to fall. The brine helps prevent ice and snow from sticking to the road surface. Most TxDOT district stations now have their own brine making machines, which is much more economical than purchasing brine from outside vendors. The Childress and Amarillo areas typically get the highest and most numerous snow amounts. So the brine operation pilot programs were first employed there. The results were outstanding.

“Highways Close Themselves”
When it comes to severe winter weather, TxDOT does not encourage closing highways. According to Gilbert Jordan, emergency management coordinator with TxDOT, “highways close themselves,” when the road becomes impassible. TxDOT only closes roads as a last resort, such as when there is a lack of medical support in the area because of mobility issues. If the need arises to close any roads for other reasons, TxDOT coordinates with the Texas Department of Public Safety to determine what needs to take place.

McKinney Ice

However, TxDOT districts are able to practice their own planning when it comes to closing roads. In the Pharr area, for example, if there are issues with ice and snow on the roads, they may decide to close the highways. People in the area are used to it, and the ice there tends to melt pretty quickly, usually as soon as the sun begins to shine

In Texas, winter weather may not always be a top concern for us, however, even short winter storm can create havoc on our roads for millions of people. You can keep current on area road conditions any time at DriveTexas.org. If winter weather or other hazardous conditions are imminent, use TxDOT Twitter feeds to keep apprised of road conditions in your area.

The Texas Division of Emergency Management along with TxDOT recommends preparing and maintaining an emergency supply kit in your vehicles, especially when it comes to potentially dangerous winter weather. Keeping a portable emergency supply kit will assist in a speedy evacuation, ensuring you have everything you need until you are able to return home.

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