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Winter Is Coming and Louisville Is Getting Prepared for Snow


Snow plow driver Trent Haines laughed when he was asked about last winter.  “Last year was probably one of the worst winters I’ve seen as far of time we had to put in,” said Haines, who's worked for Louisville Metro Public Works for eight years. And he and his colleagues are ready to do it all over again. Louisville crews are prepared to fight winter weather, city officials and others announced Monday. Last winter, 26 inches fell in some parts of Jefferson County. Jefferson County Public Schools shut down for 11 days and the city nearly ran out of salt to fight the ice from blanketing roadways. “Man, it hit us hard,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. “I never even knew what an arctic express or a polar vortex was until last year.” But Fischer said this year road crews are “battle ready for whatever the season brings.” Metro Public Works is responsible for the more than 2,700 miles of roadways that crisscross Louisville, according to a news release. (The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and other agencies deal with other roadways.) This year, the department will begin the winter season with 40,000 tons of road salt, nearly five tons more than last year, said Tim Maier, the department’s district operations manager.  Though having more salt can help the road clearing effort, more salt means higher costs—plus, the cost of a ton of salt has skyrocketed since last year. Maier said the city’s salt supply this year cost about $83 per ton, up from $56 per ton last year.  He attributed the boosted price to heightened demand. Even Jefferson County Public Schools is upping its snow fighting budget, said Rick Caple, the district's director of transportation. The school district is spending about $550,000 on salt for its properties throughout the county this year, about 33 percent more than last year, he said.  What to Expect So, with all the equipment, all the salt and all the hype—what should we expect this winter? John Gordon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the winter weather is likely to be inconsistent. He said periods of cold air will be followed by warmer air, a pattern that can be expected until spring. “Up and down all winter long,” he added. Inconsistency is par for Louisville winters. Here's a look back at the past 20 years:

And here's how much money the city has budgeted the past five years for snow removal:

  • 2013-14: $2,619,790.07
  • 2012-13: $ 814,216.34
  • 2011-12: $1,062,552.62
  • 2010-11: $1,998,848.22
  • 2009-10: $2,865,942.82

 (Number provided by Metro Public Works.) 'Help Us Help You' To spread the salt and clear the roads, Metro Public Works will use 160 pieces of snow fighting equipment, Maier said. But keeping snow and ice off the road takes more than salt and trucks.  Maier said road crews will also use brine, which is a saltwater solution that helps reduce “slick spots” on pavement.  Also in the department's snow-fighting tool chest is a calcium chloride mixture that Maier said is added to the salt loads when temperatures dip below 25 degrees. Salt is the best material for fighting snow and ice, Maier said.  But the best tool, that’s the drivers. “Without the drivers we wouldn’t have anything to put the salt on down with,” he said. Haines, the plow driver, said his job to is help people in Louisville. “When they’re able to get to work and take care of their families and take care of their jobs and all these types of things, and you know you had some type of small part in that, it’s gratifying—it really is," Haines said.

He said he usually doesn’t have to work more than 16 hours at a time.  Normally, the 265-member staff works in 12 hour shifts. As for family time, Haines said “the family knows, that, pretty much, in the winter, you belong to the city.” It’s a dangerous job that can, at times, stir fear in drivers, he said.  The trucks vary in weight and size and age, but they’re all heavy—even heavier when loaded with salt and pushed snow.  In fact, the weight of snow on a plow can be enough to turn a truck sideways.  And when snow blankets a road, everything looks a bit different than it does on a sunny, warmer day, Haines said. “That snow makes the street look different,” he said. And snow plow drivers always try to be aware of other vehicles on the road. Motorists can help, Haines said, by giving snow plow drivers space and being deliberate in their movements on the roadway. “Help us help you,” Haines said.

Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.