WILLMAR — With life-threatening travel conditions expected in the next few days, those living in the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s District 8 area are being advised to stay home and wait until Saturday to travel, according to District 8 Superintendent Lonnie Hoffman.
“If people can stay home, stay home, that’s number one,” he said. “With the temperatures and snow we’re seeing now, if you go into the ditch, you’re in trouble.”
District 8 is responsible for maintaining and keeping safe 2,984 lane miles of state and federal highways in 12 counties in Southwest Minnesota – Chippewa, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Lincoln, Lyon, McLeod, Meeker, Murray, Pipestone, Redwood, Renville and Yellow Medicine.
Although District 8 has 51 snow plows to keep the streets clear, Hoffman said the goal, given the amount of snow and temperatures District 8 will face, is to plow and scrape and keep any accumulation as thin as possible.
He explained that in these weather conditions, salt and other chemicals do nothing to keep the roads clear.
Snowplow drivers will be on the road as long as possible to keep roads clear, he added, noting they are considered emergency workers and are allowed to work 24 hours at a time. However, for safety reasons, District 8 drivers are generally not expected to work more than 16 hours without a break.
Snowplough routes in District 8 can vary from just 30 miles in the actual Willmar area to 100 miles or more in western parts of the district, according to Hoffman. This can mean a snowplow can take anywhere from two to four hours to complete a route, which is why some people complain that they “never see a snowplow” in inclement weather, he said.
According to District 8 public affairs coordinator Sandra Schlagel, District 8 uses the National Weather Service’s forecasts to plan for snow and ice events.
District 8 is expecting up to 8 inches of fluffy snow with a break in the snow sometime between Wednesday and Thursday, according to the latest forecast. Blizzard conditions are possible Thursday noon through early Saturday due to winds of 20-30mph with gusts up to 40mph.
The cold -25 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures expected Thursday through Friday night can be life-threatening to anyone traveling and ending up in a ditch or whose car becomes disabled, Hoffman said.
The weather conditions and travel warnings also mean snowplow drivers may be among the only people taking to the streets to rescue anyone who ends up in a ditch or whose vehicle becomes disabled, Hoffman noted.
For those traveling in such weather conditions, caution is advised when approaching a snowplow and staying 10 car lengths behind, particularly because snowplows can make unexpected turns and movements, according to Schlagel.
Under the conditions District 8 will experience over the next few days, snowplows are moving at about 30 miles per hour, Hoffman said.
When applying chemicals or when the snow is wetter and heavier, snowplows can travel slower than or slower than 20 miles per hour.
Although snowplow trucks have front and rear cameras, it’s “virtually impossible” for snowplow drivers to see other vehicles because of the numerous blind spots on a plow truck and the cloud of snow thrown out by snowplows, Hoffman said.
A snowplow driver typically doesn’t even see a vehicle passing the snowplow until the vehicle is in front of the plow truck, he noted.
There is an app for that
Those planning a trip and want to check road conditions, whether due to inclement weather or roadworks, can visit 511mn.org or download the 511 application to their phone.
511 allows travelers to choose from all types of information, including critical disruptions and road reports, winter driving conditions and weather alerts. The application and website also allow users to see views from snow plow cameras and stationary road cameras.
Other options on 511 include trucker reports, showing weather radar and traffic speed, and showing future roadworks locations, rest areas, weigh stations, and electronic road signs.