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How we deal with Winter Weather

The British winter is unpredictable, bad weather can strike suddenly. If your journey is unavoidable, make sure you are prepared for the conditions. Never assume a road has been salted. Always listen to local and national radio for travel information.

British winters are not predictable. This can cause us a real problem as bad weather can strike suddenly and severely. It doesn’t have to be very cold for the road surface to freeze. In winter road surface temperatures can be up to 4 degrees colder than the air temperature.

At all times Dudley Council’s first priority is your safety and our aim is to keep delays and accidents caused by wintry conditions to a minimum. Therefore, we attempt to ensure that major roads are treated with rock salt as a precaution against the possibility of ice patches forming or snow accumulating.

How we deal with Winter Weather

We carry out precautionary salting on the roads if we are expecting the road surface to reach freezing – or if the snow is forecast. This goes a long way towards keeping our roads safe and clear during spells of cold weather. But when it snows very heavily even salt can’t stop it from piling up. Besides the snow we also have to deal with:

  • Black Ice: this is very difficult to see and therefore very dangerous.

  • Hoar frost: while ice crystals occasionally form on the roads, and although a light coating is quickly melted by the pressure and heat from road traffic, untreated areas can still cause slippery conditions.

  • Freezing Rain: possibly the most dangerous of all wintry conditions. Although rare there is no effective way of dealing with it. It occurs when rain first falls upon the freezing road surface where it immediately turns into ice. However, salt on the road changes the ice back into water. This washes the salt away allowing ice to form as further rain falls.

How we decide where to Salt

Resources do not permit us to treat all roads so a salting priority network has been established.

Salting priority is given to two types of road/routes and is based on national recommendations.

  • Priority 1: major routes which form the backbone of the road network in the borough.

  • Priority 2/3: these roads, though less important, are other heavily trafficked routes, bus routes and roads serving key locations e.g. hospitals, bus stations, town centres etc.

We carry out precautionary salting to approximately 352 km of roads, 36% of all borough roads.

Other roads and all footways within the borough are only treated in exceptional circumstances when severe weather conditions persist and then only after all priority routes have been fully and adequately treated.

How we decide when to salt

Borough highway engineers are responsible for deciding what to do to protect road users against winter weather.

A duty officer monitors conditions around the clock to meet our objectives of treating Priority 1, 2, and 3 roads before ice forms or snow falls.

The duty officer also receives special 24 hour weather reports from the Met Office which contain detailed predictions about the weather and how it affects Dudley’s roads. Road surface temperatures, along with other data, are fed directly to the Met Office and the duty office for analysis. This information is used to help forecast road surface conditions leading to a more accurate and cost effective service.

Standards of Service

The salt is distributed by vehicles kept on standby from mid-November to the end of March. They can treat all priority 1, 2, and 3 roads within 4 hours of the decision to salt being made.

The Council’s drivers are fully trained and take all possible precaution during salting to protect the safety of other road users and themselves.

Salting is based upon well planned routes and as vehicles travel at less than 30 mph please be patient … take your time and do not attempt to overtake them.

Salt can be harmful to the environment so our vehicles will only spread as much salt as is necessary to deal effectively with the prevailing road conditions. This lessons environmental damage and keeps the cost of materials to a minimum. Precautionary pre-salting when frost is expected uses less material than when dealing with expected snowfalls.

Any questions?

  1. Is there a more environmentally friendly alternative to salt? We have looked carefully into possible alternatives but they would be up to 20 times more expensive to use and not necessarily more effective.

  2. Why does it take a while to clear snow from the carriageway? Because there is a limit to the amount of vehicles and special equipment that we could have available just to deal with one or two instances of heavy snow each year.

  3. Can a grit/salt bin be removed? Often a salt bin becomes the focus of vandalism or the meeting point for youths. If this becomes an unbearable nuisance, a request for the bin to be removed can be made.

  4. Why don’t you clear all of the pavements? With the limited manpower and resources available there is usually a thaw before we have had enough time to clear all but a few town centre pavements.

In very severe weather conditions, when snow or ice may remain for some days, consideration is given, in priority order, to the treatment of pedestrian routes. This would start with town centres, shopping frontages and other busy pedestrian areas.

How can you help us?

Is your journey, by car or on foot, absolutely essential?

Drive carefully in freezing weather. Check the conditions before you leave and take heed of police or weather warnings.

Remember, when you are driving, that we do not precautionary salt every road! In heavy snow please be patient.

Be particularly careful when out walking in freezing conditions.

Don’t leave vehicles where they will obstruct the free passage of maintenance vehicles.

Remember – not all roads are treated prior to frost, therefore, even though many roads may appear clear on cold and frost mornings due to our overnight salting programme, others will hold hidden dangers. So take extra care at all times when driving in wintry conditions.

In winter it is even more important to check that your vehicle is well maintained and serviced, consequently:

  • Ensure your lights and mirrors are clean and free from ice and snow before you set off and that they remain so throughout your journey.
  • Keep your battery fully charged.
  • Add anti-freeze to the radiator and winter additive to the wind screen washer bottles
  • Make sure your wipers are in good condition.
  • Check tyres have plenty of tread depth and are maintained at the correct pressure.
  • Hail, rain and heavy snow reduce visibility, use dipped headlights and reduce your speed.
  • It can take ten times longer to stop in icy conditions than on a dry road, so please drive slowly, allowing extra room to slow down and stop.
  • Use the highest gear possible to avoid wheel spin.
  • Manoeuvre gently, avoiding harsh breaking and acceleration.

Our Snowbusters scheme offers free Snowbusters packs to anyone happy to help neighbours, or local communities to clear paths, walkways or drives of snow and ice during wintry weather. The packs contain a snow shovel, high visibility jacket, five litre bag of salt and a salt spreader. There is also guidance on snow clearing and manual handling. They are available to anyone living in Dudley Borough who is happy to help their local neighbours or community with snow and ice clearing during the winter months. Simply call the council’s Winter Warmth helpline on 01384 817086 to request a pack.