Mid-South crews prepare for oncoming winter weather

Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 6:25 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Preparations are already underway in the Mid-South for inclement weather that’s expected later this weekend.

Both the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) and the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) say it’s tricky work because of the rain that’s expected beforehand, and to make things even trickier, this falls on a holiday weekend when added traffic is to be expected.

Preps started early Friday to try and at least have something down on the road to keep that rain from freezing. It’s a big concern for road crews.

“Pretreating the interstates and major highways, pre-treating by putting down salt brine,” said Dave Parker with ARDOT.

Parker says crews with ARDOT are waiting to see how much rain comes before sub-freezing temps.

“If we put down the salt brine now, and we get a heavy rain, it’s simply going to wash it away and will do no good,” he said.

On the Tennessee side, Nichole Lawrence from TDOT says plows and salt supplies are ready for when the wintry mix comes through.

“We have around 9,600 miles of lane highway that we need to cover in West Tennessee. So, as we approach that today, it’s a good reminder for folks to not crowd our workers and make sure that they’re giving them plenty of space to get out there and get to work,” said Lawrence.

TDOT has recently been hit with a blow to its ranks due to COVID-19, but Lawrence says it won’t change the effort to keep wintry conditions under control in forecasted areas.

“We are seeing challenges with our staffing,” Lawrence said. “We are committed to getting out there and clearing and getting the work done as quickly and safely as possible.”

As TDOT mans the major highways and interstates in the Memphis area, the Bluff City and Shelby County prepare to tackle the inner roads.

“We’ll focus on city routes primarily, and the bridges and overpasses are always the most important ones because they most frequently are the ones that have ice forming on them or become more treacherous,” said Memphis Public Works Director Robert Knecht.

“[The county] is ready to deploy nine trucks, if necessary, with salt and sand. Three of these trucks have snowplow blades on them,” said Charles Newell with Shelby County Emergency Management.

As we get closer to the weekend and weather forecasts become clear, both the city and county are weighing their staff options accordingly.

“We will be monitoring the situation and ready to stand up our emergency operation center if necessary,” Newell said.

“We’re planning to go ahead and staff, bringing staff in early, in advance of the weather and having them ready to go into the field and start treating the roads,” Knecht said.

Knecht is asking drivers to make safe decisions this weekend but does want them to be clear on the limitations Memphis faces when it comes to facing winter weather.

“We’re a southern city, primarily. We only have 14 spreaders, so we do not treat all of the roads. We only treat major roads, and bridges, and overpasses primarily on those roads,” Knecht said.

Regardless of how much accumulation the Mid-South gets from this winter weather, the advice from everyone is to play things safe and not go out unless you have to.

“It only takes a small patch of ice or snow to create a big problem,” Parker said. “If you see our trucks out, which you will, allow more braking distance. Take it easy. Take it slow.”

Crews will be working in 12-hour shifts until Sunday or however much longer the winter weather threat remains in the Mid-South.

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