This year, the gritters around Lincolnshire are hoping to be very well prepared with technology helping them gauge where they might be needed most.
Lincolnshire County Council and Kier, who work in partnership to grit the highways, have a new system in place to monitor the temperature of individual roads.
The state-of-the-art technology from the Met Office makes use of weather stations across the county, along with a range of factors to predict road temperatures.
As the council sent its fleet of 43 gritters out on a test run earlier this year, Coun Richard Davies, Executive Member for Highways, said: “I am really excited about the gritting programme this year as we have a more efficient and cost-effective service and we can still treat nearly 2,000 miles of our county’s road at once if we need to.
“Our salt reserves are shipped over from the Mediterranean so it has made financial sense to buy in bulk and we will keep what we don’t use for the following winter
“We also expect to use less salt this winter as we can monitor the temperature of individual roads with our new technology – so we can be more targeted with the roads we treat.
“Of course, if we are in any doubt roads will be gritted to make sure they are safe but it’s great to have this flexibility.”
For the new weather monitoring system to work, Lincolnshire County Council gives the Met Office its salting routes.
The weather authority then looks at where the roads fall geographically on their UK forecast model, which is divided into 1km squares with a weather prediction for each.
The Met Office also looks at satellite data to see the ‘skyview’ - looking at how much the road is exposed or shaded by trees and buildings - and also consider things like water sources and road material.
This is fed into their computers, along with the data from the nearest weather station, and allows them to come up with a forecast for each section of the route.
This is followed up by driving a special vehicle around the routes to verify what the differences are and to make sure it is accurate.
A spokesman for the council said: “In its simplest form, it takes the known data from a single point (the weather station) and tempers it up or down (by sometimes up to two or three degrees along a route) based on a variety of data. Previously, we just got a minimum road temperature for a whole domain in our forecast, now we get forecasts for each segment of each route so some routes might drop below freezing where others won’t.”
What’s it like for gritting teams
What is it like for a modern day gritting team? Here the business manager for Kier in Lincolnshire Martin Thurnell gives his experience of the process.
“We receive weather updates from the Met Office several times per day, and we hold daily conference calls to decide whether action is required.
“Both Kier and Lincolnshire County Council use software which helps to coordinate the activity, recording the weather conditions and the type of action required.
“The system sends text messages to the drivers on the rota, who text back to confirm that instructions are understood.
“Kier have almost 100 drivers available, but finding the right people can be difficult.
“Drivers need at least LGV-2 plus a Driver Qualification Card. An NVQ in Winter Operations is preferable , but we can provide that training if people are interested.
“When the team get a shout drivers report to their nearest depot where they load and check their gritter.
“Drivers have allocated routes, so they know the roads and the local variations in road surface temperature and moisture levels.
“Each route takes approximately two-and-a-half hours after which the drivers return to their depot for a de-brief with their supervisor.
“Many of the drivers also work within the Lincolnshire Highways teams, so extended periods of cold weather can put pressure on resources.
“It’s important that our drivers have enough rest, so a period of heavy snow means that we have to put all hands to the pump to keep the service going. We get more snow than other counties, so we are used to managing with these situations.”
“It’s really important that all drivers in Lincolnshire do their bit to help, and there are some key bits of advice that really help us deliver the service”
Martin asked for some help with regard to gritters:
* If you are driving and you see a gritter coming up behind you, pull over in a safe location and allow the gritter to pass
* If you park in the street, please pull up as close to the kerb as possible especially on estate and town centre roads. This is to allow safe and unrestricted passage for gritters
* If you believe the road conditions are very poor then think about leaving your car at home and using public transport or walking. The first thing to ask is, do I need to make this journey?
* If you need to travel then check the local and regional forecasts beforehand
* Make sure your car is ready for winter; screen wash, antifreeze and good tyres with correct inflation
* If you pass a gritter with a snow plough fitted, please allow extra room when passing
Here are a few facts about the county’s gritting:
* The county’s gritters treat 1,869 miles (3,008 km) of roads in the county – just over a third of Lincolnshire’s entire 5,500 mile road network.
* The gritters are on call 24/7 and can be called out in the early mornings, in the harshest conditions and even on Christmas Day.
* All A and B roads are salted and all the main NHS hospitals, railway and bus stations are linked to the treated network – public service and school bus routes are taken into consideration.
* Where physically possible, the gritters also try to salt within 500 metres of all primary and secondary schools.
* There are 43 routes with one gritter for each route, however, there are five spare gritters in case of emergency.
* In 2014, 40,000 tonnes of grit was used to treat the county’s roads – the highest on the council’s records.
* All public service and school bus drivers are professional drivers trained to drive in winter weather conditions.
* Earlier this month, a newly-constructed salt barn at Willingham Hall highways depot, near Market Rasen, was opened, enabling the council and Kier to store twice as much salt in optimum, dry conditions.