Tough winter weather has an impact
The December snowfalls may have some veteran weather watchers calling for an 'old-fashioned winter' in Wisconsin this year, and they may be right.
The St. Croix County Highway Department has already been pressed into service quite regularly to clear the roadways, and it probably won't let up soon.
"From the predictions we are receiving, this does look to be a more intense winter than average," said Tim Ramberg, county highway commissioner. "We just heard a local climatologist predict that December, January and February are to be colder and more snowy than normal and it doesn't look like an early thaw in 2009."
The state has implemented a new hot line and expanded Web site for Wisconsin road information that may help travelers better avoid nasty situations this winter.
By dialing 511 from a telephone or cell phone, an individual can access information on major Wisconsin highways. Road and traffic information of all types is available by contacting www.511wi.gov on the Web.
"511 replaces 1-800-ROADWIS, which provides travelers with real-time, as close as possible, traffic information such as ongoing incidents, lane closures and winter road conditions through an interactive voice response system," said Ramberg.
Coverage on the telephone system is limited to the interstate and selected major U.S. and state highways. The Web site provides information on the entire state highway system except county highways and local streets, he said.
"Floodgate messages will be provided," Ramberg said. "When callers dial 511, the first message they hear is an alert such as full closures due to inclement weather, major incidents or Amber alerts."
"I am excited because this will allow the traveling public to plan their activities better, save time on the road and keep vehicles off the road during difficult times for road crews, hopefully making use more safe, effective and efficient," he said.
As for the job at hand, plowing 1,200 miles of roadways in the county with 30 maintenance trucks, Ramberg and his crew face a wide variety of variables.
"Each storm is different and changes the ability to clear roads and determines how long and intense the event will be on the traveling public and snow fighters," he said.
Ramberg listed some of the elements that affect road clearing:
Salt becomes ineffective at 20 degrees or below, then chlorides need to be added to get into below zero temperatures. At minus 15 degrees it is very difficult to get ice off the roads.
The four Rs of salt management: the right material, at the right time, in the right amount in the right place.
Windy areas, intersections, bridges, shady areas and high-volume roadways add to the difficulty.
"The good news so far is that statewide traffic fatalities are down," Ramberg said. "I believe this is because of several reasons including less travel due to higher fuel prices, a much greater level of awareness by the public, as well as public and private agencies due to last year's big snow event in southeastern Wisconsin and more media attention."
For Wisconsin road information, dial 511 or visit www.511wi.gov on the Internet. For real-time traffic camera views of I-94 traffic looking west into Minnesota from the overpasses in Hudson, visit www.dot.state.mn.us/tmc/trafficinfo/cameras_map.html.