Salem, VDOT and Roanoke snow crews spend months preparing for winter weather

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ROANOKE VALLEY (WSLS 10)-- Cold weather in the morning has many of us thinking about snow, but for local snow removal crews-- it's something they have prepared for since the summer. From new trucks to new techniques, we could see some big changes in the way snow is handled this winter.

For the City of Salem, snow removal has become somewhat of a specialty. The city is known for getting roads cleared the quickest in our region, with a focus on getting schools and businesses reopened right away. Earlier this year, Mike Tyler, the director of streets and general maintenance for Salem, was invited to speak at a national snow removal conference in Colorado-- sharing some unique techniques of how his crews clear the roads and keep the snow plows running.

Salem crews test out repairs on salt and brine truck
Salem crews test out repairs on salt and brine truck

Instead of starting with the most traveled or major roads and working their way down to neighborhood streets, crews in Salem are assigned to a specific region and work to get that entire area plowed, regardless of street size. Because the salt and bein mixtures can be so corrosive, the city also has more intricate techniques of hooking up the wiring on the snow trucks-- soldering the pieces together and heat wrapping those connections to protect the wires from strong chemicals.

Overall, Tyler says early prevention is key. That's why repairs and checkups on all of the snow plow trucks started months ago, back in the summer.

"You have to get on a creeper, grab a flashlight, you have to get under these trucks and look," he says. "You have to look for things that are wearing, hoses that are rubbing. You're almost like an investigator. You're looking for things that are going to fail when you're out there and need that truck the most. You're trying to address those things now."

Tyler says it's a little strange working on the trucks when it's still warm outside, but fighting off the occasional bee's nest is a lot better than the bigger issues that a malfunction could cause in the winter.

The City of Roanoke is focused on early prevention as well-- working now to ensure everything runs smoothly this winter. Roanoke has several new trucks that transportation division manager, Mark Jamison, says will help with the reliability of the snow plows.

There is also more than 4,500 tons of rock salt for the roads stockpiled and ready to go. In the winter those resources can be hard to come by with everyone placing orders at the same time, so Roanoke City made sure to order plenty now so they're prepared.

City crews have also been holding training sessions over the past few weeks, setting up a course for drivers to practice on at the Berglund Center so they can get used to the vehicles.

"When you take a big dump truck, as big as that is, and put a plow on the front, it weighs about 1,200 pounds," says Jamison. "With a spreader on the back, that truck operates a whole lot differently than if you're just hauling a load during a regular summer or spring work day."

Roanoke City has 4,500 tons of rock salt ready for snow removal
Roanoke City has 4,500 tons of rock salt ready for snow removal

Now the next few weeks for Roanoke City will be spent addressing maintenance needs and any repairs that need to be made on the trucks.

Meanwhile, VDOT has made some changes of its own this year. If you live in the Lynchburg area, you may notice LED headlights on the snowplows instead of the typical halogen lights. The new lights are helping crews see better in the snowy and slick conditions. It's a change we could eventually see spread to other parts of the state as well.