Prepare Yourself for Winter Weather
- Know before you go! Before you ever plan to drive, check 511.nebraska.gov or your 511 app for current road conditions.
- Make sure you have enough fuel. Keep at least half a tank.
- Clear all snow fro the hood (especially the air intake vents), roof, windows, and lights. Clear all windows of fog.
- If you are forced to stop at the side of the road, put on emergency flashers.
- Carrying a cell phone gives you an edge in an emergency. A car charger for the phone battery, or an extra charged battery is also a good idea. Never use the phone while you are driving the car.
- Give yourself extra time to travel, plan your route and let someone know your destination, the highways you will travel on, and when you will be expected.
- Keep to the main roads. Avoid passing another vehicle when weather conditions are bad.
- Wear warm clothing that does not restrict movement. Dressing in layers is always a good idea.
- Pack a Vehicle Survival Kit and keep it in the trunk of the car at all times.
Prepare Your Vehicle for Winter Weather
- Get a complete tune-up in the fall. Check your tire pressure at least once a month.
- Have your exhaust system carefully checked for leaks that could send carbon monoxide into your vehicle.
- Check your radiator and hoses for cracks and leaks. Check anti-freeze and heater.
- Make sure wipers are in good condition, and fill up on winter washer fluid.
- Check your tires.
- Tire Chains - It is permissible to use tire chains of reasonable proportions upon any vehicle when required for safety because of snow, ice, or other condition tending to cause a vehicle to slide or skid. (Section 60-6, 250)
- Studded Snow Tire Use in NE - Motorists may use studded snow tires in Nebraska from November 1 to April 1. School buses, emergency vehicles, and mail carrier vehicles may use them any time during the year.
If you become trapped in a storm, don't panic! The following steps can save your life:
- Avoid overexertion and exposure. Shoveling and bitter cold can kill.
- Stay in your car. You won't get lost and you'll have shelter.
- Keep fresh air in your car. Crack open a window on the side sheltered from the wind.
- Run your engine sparingly. Beware of exhaust fumes and the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Ensure the tailpipe is not blocked by snow.
- Set out a warning light or flares.
- Exercise your limbs - keep moving and don't fall asleep.
- Wear a hat, as you can lose up to 60 percent of your body heat through your head.
Winter Weather Words to Know
- Winter Storm Watch - A winter storm is possible or approaching.
- Winter Storm Warning - A winter storm is imminent.
- Snow Advisory - One to five inches is expected.
- Blowing and Drifting Snow Advisory - Visibility can be at or below a quarter mile.
- Wind Chill Advisory - Wind chills of -30 to -35 are expected.
- Freezing Rain/Sleet Advisory - An accumulation of freezing rain or sleet could make exposed surfaces dangerous or cause damage.
- No Unnecessary Travel - The road is open but travel is not recommended due to hazardous driving conditions. Generally, this advisory is posted during winter months due to extremely icy conditions, when visibility is limited due to blowing snow, or when a combination of conditions makes travel ill-advised.
- Black Ice - A thin coating or glaze of ice on the road that is particularly dangerous as it may appear to be a film of water or may not be visible/discernible at all.
- Blowing Snow - Snow propelled by the wind across or along the road surface at least 1 foot above the ground.
- Reduced Visibility - Visibility less than 400 feet for any reason.
Six Most Common Bad Winter Driving Habits
Winter conditions bring a lot of special challenges and potential danger. Unfortunately, each winter we see many drivers in a situation where travelers find themselves involved in accidents that could have been prevented had safe habits been in place. Here are some of the most common bad habits or trends I have noticed drivers repeating over the years, which often can lead to accidents. When crashes happen, it makes life difficult for other motorists, and escalates the risk to those who provide public safety functions on our highways.
- Failing to react soon enough to trouble ahead. Drivers often ignore inclement conditions and underestimate the time/distance they will need to stop. So, what is excessive? Its not the same for every motorist. Its based on the type of vehicle being driven, its condition, the drivers experience and abilities and their condition. No two drivers are equal in their abilities to operate similar vehicles in winter conditions, adjustments in traveling speed, following distance are necessary for each on the many conditions seen for winter driving.
- Excessive speed for the conditions. leads to loss of traction, in commercial vehicles this creates jackknifes, loss of control and crashes. For cars and pick-ups single vehicle or multivehicle crashes. Mix this with semi-truck commercial vehicles, you have a possibility of a significant crash and road blockage.
- Driving in a fatigued condition. Winter driving is more stressful and more tiring than driving in good weather conditions. Long distance drivers need to learn to recognize when to stop for the day sooner. These making long commutes at the end of a work shift might be better off sheltering in the community at the end of the workday and eliminating the commute.
- Failing to anticipate or notice changing road/weather conditions. Many single vehicle run-off accidents occur when drivers fail to anticipate changes in the road condition. They continue to drive in the same way as if the conditions were good. Reduced traction and reduced visibility are the two changes that contribute to most wintertime run off the road crashes. Prepare yourself before you drive by understanding the road conditions on your route and what’s forecasted for it.
- Not maintaining sufficient following distance. Drivers often make the mistake of assuming the amount of following distance they use in an urban environment in summer, will work just as well in the winter. Triple this distance. A driver must significantly increase following distance to account for the increase stopping distance that will be needed whenever a stop is required. Slow Down, increase your following distance. Resist the urge to pass the vehicle ahead of you.
- Continuing to drive when conditions are unsafe to do so. Road conditions can worsen quickly. Drivers should know the limitations their vehicle has and their ability to drive in inclement weather, then take extra care to know as best as they can what the forecast conditions are for the trip ahead. If their winter driving experience is beyond their driving comfort or the conditions are deteriorating to the point where further driving is unsafe, it is advisable to find the nearest safe place to park to wait for conditions to improve.
Replacing these bad habits with safe habits can go a long way toward making our roads safer for travel in winter conditions. NDOT cares about good driver behavior and wants motorists to arrive safely at their destinations.
Sharing the Road with Snowplows
- Snowplows are on the road for your safety. -
When you encounter a snowplow, remember:
- Plows travel slowly, usually 25-30 miles per hour or less. Begin slowing down as soon as you see a snowplow. The most common crashes are motorists hitting the rear ends of snowplows.
- Stay well behind the snowplow. Because snowplows are large, operators cannot see directly behind their trucks. Be extremely cautious when passing or meeting snowplows. They can be suddenly thrust sideways by drifts and hard snowpack.
- Do not pass in a snow cloud or until you can be sure the road ahead is clear of vehicles and snowdrifts. Be patient and wait for the driver to see you or when they pull over so traffic can safely pass.
- Snowplows and traffic cause light snow to swirl. It can become difficult or impossible to see the plow and the roadway, and also for the plow operator to see you.
- Never pass a plow on the right. Some snowplows are equipped with a wing plow — an eight-foot extension on the right side of the truck.
- Plows aren't just removing snow. They may also be spreading sand or deicer on roads. Maintain a safe distance behind snowplows to avoid being sprayed with deicing material.
- Be careful when meeting plows as they may be spreading sand or deicer and the operator may not be able to shut the spreaders off when you approach. Reduce speed when meeting a plow and move as far right as you safely can to prevent windshield damage.
- Know where the plow is. On multi-lane highways, the snowplow could be in any lane. Watch for snowplows that may be turning around on Interstate ramps or on an “Authorized Vehicles Only” crossover in the median of interstate or divided highways.
A Look into NDOT Winter Ops
Incredible amounts of work go into maintaining roads during winter months — many that people may not realize. To get a better understanding of what this all entails, District 2 Maintenance Superintendent, Jim Laughlin, provided us with a breakdown of what steps are taken throughout Nebraska, and specifically in the Omaha area, to keep State Highways clear before, during, and after a storm.
Prior to a storm:
- We look at the forecast to determine:
- Amount of snow predicted, initial temperature, forecasted low temperature, duration of storm, when to put crews in “on call” status, etc.
- We make sure that we have:
- Adequate salt
- Adequate salt brine or salt brine GEPMELT/mix
- We check that the trucks and other equipment have been checked out including:
- Plow blades, spreaders/augers - that they are serviced
- Lights, tires, hydraulic system, wiper blades
- Any equipment repair orders have been taken care of
- We check our highways for defects that won’t be visible when they are covered with snow
- We may pretreat some areas with salt or salt brine
- District Operations Maintenance Managers (DOMMS)/Superintendents watch for storms and receive information about the timing of upcoming storms
During the storm:
- Crews are called in approximately 2 hours prior to when the precipitation will have a negative effect on the roadway
- Plow trucks are out
- 1-ton trucks are out cleaning frontage roads
- Supervisors/Superintendents are out monitoring for trouble areas
- Mechanics are dealing with truck issues
- Staff assistants are monitoring phones
After the storm:
- While the storm might seem to be over, there is still what we call the cleanup phase:
- Clean gore areas
- Clean shoulders/ramps
- Make sure all the turn lanes are cleared
- Clean maintenance crossovers
- Depending on the temperatures there might storm drains that are plugged
- We clear maintenance facilities & empty plow trucks
- Depending on the forecast, either rinse plow trucks off and grease them or wash the trucks completely, then check them over
- Start servicing/repairing equipment as needed
- Highway areas are checked for issues such as pot holes, guardrail damage, sign damage etc.
- Start preparing for the next event...
And remember, just because there is a storm coming doesn’t mean that is all that is focused on. There are still signs and guardrails to repair, pot holes to fill, bridge joints that may have been caught by plow blades, etc.
The next time you see a road maintenance worker, tell them thank you for all of the hard work they do to keep our roads safe!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What should I do before I travel?
A: Before traveling, know the current road conditions and weather forecast. If you have access to the internet, you should always check 511.nebraska.gov before you travel. Download the 511 mobile app to use on the go. If you do not have access to the internet, call 511 to check the road conditions in the state you are currently in.
You should also prepare yourself and your vehicle for winter travel. Use the resources above to educate yourself and others on how to properly prepare for travelling this winter.
Q: What causes a road to be closed or detoured in the winter?
A: A variety of reasons could cause a road to be closed or detoured in the winter. This includes, but is not limited to, stalled or crashed vehicles blocking the road, roadways drifted shut, impassable roads, or a visibility of zero. If there is heavy snow in a short amount of time, road crews may need to close the road to clear crashed or stalled vehicles.
Q: How has NDOT prepared for this winter season?
A: Many districts have met with Nebraska State Patrol, the National Weather Service, City & County Officials, and others to discuss the upcoming winter season. With the potential for increased moisture this winter, districts are prepared with more materials on hand. Equipment has also been calibrated, tested, and prepared for use.
Q: When forecasts call for snow, what actions does NDOT take?
A: When weather forecasts indicate the dispatch of snowplows will be necessary, NDOT mobilizes plows at the start of the storm. Before the storm, NDOT may spray a layer of liquid deicer on bridges and at stop sign locations. Once snow starts to fall, solid or liquid deicers are used to help prevent the precipitation from freezing to the roadway surface.
Q: How can I safely share the road with snowplows?
A: Plows travel slowly and require extra space when working, so begin slowing down as soon as you see a snowplow. Stay well behind the snowplow and be extremely cautious if you need to pass it. Never pass a plow on the right as some snowplows are equipped with a wing plow - an eight-foot extension on the right side of the truck. There are some times when plows may take up more than half of the road, as they must ensure that the center lines are visible for drivers. Please slow down and allow them the room necessary. Click here to learn more about what to do when there is a snowplow on the road.
Q: What types of materials are used by NDOT to control or reduce ice on roadways?
A: Liquid and solid deicers are used on interstates, freeways, and divided highways as needed. During a storm, liquid and solid deicers may be used to help prevent the road surface from freezing. Following a storm, liquid and solid deicers may be used on any highway to return the roadway to a normal condition for the season. Grit or sand may be used to enhance traction on curves, hills or leading up to stop signs, or to carry a liquid deicer onto the roadway.
Q: What is a tow plow? What is the benefit of using a tow plow?
A: A tow plow is a trailer pulled behind a standard plow truck and uses hydraulics to swing the plow to the side, allowing the plow to cover two lanes of highway. The benefit is that the tow plow uses one less truck and operator and plows two lanes at a time. Please remember to maintain a safe traveling distance around all snow removal equipment.