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How does TDOT prepare when winter weather is on the way?

When a winter weather event is in the forecast, the Tennessee Department of Transportation has a lot of decisions to make to keep our roads safe.

Winter weather is something that the Tennessee Department of Transportation is concerned about year-round. They plan for months in advance and now, it's crunch time.

“Once we start getting into the fall and winter seasons, then we’ve really got to make sure that our equipment is ready to go, make sure our supplies are ready to go so that when that winter weather gets here, we will be prepared,” TDOT spokesperson Mark Nagi said.

When winter weather begins to show up in the forecast, TDOT puts their plan into action, moving supplies, equipment and most importantly, personnel, to where they need to be.

They also have to be flexible and ready to adjust that plan as needed.

“Of course, forecasts can change as the days go on so really our preparations are kind of a moving target when it comes to a winter weather event,” Nagi said.

Now you may be wondering why some roads get treated and others don’t. Interstates and heavily-traveled state routes take priority, then the secondary roads come next.

RELATED: Winter Weather Outlook: Why some roads are worse than others after it snows

It’s also important to note that the Department of Transportation isn’t responsible for every road in Tennessee.

“TDOT is responsible for interstates and state routes, so any of those local roads would be the responsibility of local authorities,” said Nagi.

When it comes time to deploy the trucks, the decision for which type of treatment to use depends on the weather that we have BEFORE the winter precipitation arrives.

Rain before snow makes their jobs a lot more difficult.

“What we like to do is pretreat the roadways with salt brine, that is a salt and water mixture, basically. But if you get rain beforehand, then putting that salt brine down would basically be counter-productive. It would just wash that brine off the roadway,” Nagi said.

Credit: Cassie Nall

RELATED: Winter Weather Outlook for the 2019-2020 season

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When this happens, all TDOT can do is have their crews ready to go for when the wintry weather arrives.

They get the trucks loaded with salt and head out onto their routes.

“Once that rain switches over to snow, then they’ll be ready to plow and also put down salt to try to melt the freezing stuff on the roadways,” said Nagi.

Credit: Cassie Nall

TDOT has salt bins, equipment and crews in each county in the state. That way resources are always close by and can quickly be dispatched as needed.

Some of the trucks in the fleet actually have temperature sensors on the outside of the truck that measure how cold the road is. This helps crews know which areas need the most treatment.

Credit: Cassie Nall

Once the temperatures start to drop into the 20s and teens, these treatment methods of brine and salt become less effective.

“Unfortunately, as the temperatures get below freezing, start getting into the 20s, the high teens, then the effectiveness of our supplies will go down. So that’s why we always tell folks that if you don’t have to be on the roadways during a winter weather event, just stay off the roadways,” said Nagi.

The bottom line is that if you don’t have to be out on the roads during a winter weather event, it’s just best to stay home.

Part of traveling safely on the roads during the winter season is making sure that your car is prepped and ready in case of inclement weather. Here are some tips for how to get ready: 

With winter approaching, you want to make sure your vehicle is ready to go. We'll start off inside your vehicle by putting together a winter survival kit.

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