The Iowa Department of Transportation has its supplies ready for whatever the winter ahead brings.
DOT winter operations administrator Craig Bargfrede says several hundred-million pounds of rock salt are tucked away in giant storage domes beside the 101 DOT garages spread out statewide. “We have roughly 226,000 tons of capacity across the state and currently, we’re a little over,” Bargfrede says. “We’re right at about 105% of our capacity and we’ve got a pretty good supply on hand already.”
How bad will the winter ahead be? It’s still anyone’s guess. Various forecasting agencies are working to project how cold it might get and how many feet of snow may fall. Bargfrede says the DOT is doing its best to take the guessing out of that game. “We collect different data points from a weather standpoint to give us a winter severity index,” Bargfrede says. “We use that number just to gauge how severe winter is and compare that with winter seasons.”
Most of the vehicles in the snowplow fleet are equipped with webcams that give Bargfrede — and anyone with internet access — a clear view of the conditions the plow driver is seeing in real-time. “All of our trucks are outfitted with GPS-ABL systems that allow us to track a number of data points as well,” Bargfrede says. “I can go back and look at each garage and pull up a history from the last five years as to how much material they’ve used over the winter season.”
In recent years, the DOT changed how the lights are configured on its snowplows so drivers will know when one of the big machines is ahead. “As you’re traveling down the road and you see in the distance a flashing blue and amber lighting package, you need to recognize and understand you are approaching a snowplow truck from the rear,” Bargfrede says. “That snowplow truck will more than likely be traveling at a slow rate of speed.”
Flashing amber lights without the blue ones mean you’re approaching an oncoming plow. Either way, he says drivers should adjust their speed accordingly to accommodate meeting that vehicle. The website, 511ia.org, enables Iowans to see a variety of road conditions, including the real-time webcam shots from snowplows.