Snowpocalypse, nah: Georgia rolls out new winter storm arsenal

While most people are busy gearing up for the holidays, Georgia Department of Transportation officials have been cramming for their next big winter test.

With so much on the line politically, not to mention economically, the state can’t afford another blunder like Snow Jam 2014, which caused more than 1,200 wrecks and left thousands of angry motorists stranded on ice-covered roads.

“We are preparing for the worst and we’ll hope for the best,” said GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry at a news conference Monday. “Sometimes Mother Nature can throw us a curve ball. So I wanted to tell you that when the unexpected happens weatherwise, we’re prepared to respond to it.”

Many recommendations made by Gov. Nathan Deal’s Severe Winter Weather Warning and Preparedness Task Force have been implemented in the aftermath of the 2014 Snow Jam. The state avoided a major winter storm earlier this year, but who knows what the coming cold season could bring.

A success story from the winter of early 2015 was the spreading of a liquid salt mixture called “brine” on the roads to help delay freezing, said state maintenance engineer Dale Brantley. Traditionally, GDOT had used rock salt rather than brine to treat the roads. But if there is no precipitation at the time the rock salt is spread, fast-moving cars simply blow the salt off the roadway.

By contrast, spraying brine onto the road creates a salt residue over the entire surface of the pavement and keeps initial rainfall, snow or sleet from freezing as it hits the ground. The residue eventually dilutes and begins to wash away, but it gives GDOT workers more time to go back and spread more rock salt or brine where needed.

“We have come light years since the storm of two years ago,” McMurry said.

Among the new tools at GDOT’s disposal are:

  • Pavement sensors to detect temperatures in 15 locations around metro Atlanta, as well as one in Macon and 11 in North Georgia.
  • Changeable message signs equipped with cameras, which are being installed across the state at 42 interchanges to monitor real-time traffic information and post early warnings about metro Atlanta pavement conditions long before drivers ever enter the area.
  • 70 new snow plows, bringing the total fleet to 385 statewide.
  • One new tow plow, which brings the total fleet to 6. The tow plow can cover twice the ground of a typical snow plow. The tow plow is about two-and-a-half lanes wide and gets towed behind a dump truck, rather than being mounted in front of the truck.
  • Two new brine production facilities (for a total of three) and 10 new, 5,000-gallon brine distribution tankers (for a total of 24). Total brine storage capacity is now in excess of 200,000 gallons.
  • Nine new salt and gravel storage locations, for a total of 30 statewide, which will allow for quicker, more targeted response. Three of the new facilities are in metro Atlanta — on I-675 at I-285; I-285 at U.S. 78; and on the Buford Spring Connector at Sidney Marcus Boulevard.
  • Ability to view all surrounding states’ weather conditions in real time through an expanded Road Weather Information System (RWIS) network.
  • About 1,900 employees available to respond to winter weather events, and additional contractors on call to help plow and scrape ice from the roads if needed.

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