NCDOT works hard to prepare for winter weather and the hazards that come with it. There are a lot of facets to our winter weather readiness and response, and we are committed to making sure that they are all in place and work well together before winter comes.
In the Fall
We begin our preparations in advance of the winter storm season:
- Equipment is cleaned, repaired and tested.
- Salt and sand is purchased and stored.
- Salt brine storage tanks are filled.
- Maintenance crews conduct dry runs on their routes.
- Contractors are on-call to help when needed.
Before the Storm
When a storm is forecasted to impact our state, NCDOT stays in constant contact with the National Weather Service to help our 3,200 specially-trained employees stay ahead of the weather.
If the conditions are good for brining, we’ll spray the roadways with the salt-water mixture up to 48 hours before the storm is expected to arrive to help keep ice from bonding to the pavement.
During/After the Storm
Trucks in affected areas are mobilized as soon as possible to help clear primary roads. We have more than 1,900 trucks that can be equipped with plows and spreaders to remove snow and ice.
If necessary, we call in trucks and other equipment from less affected areas to help. Despite our best efforts, sometimes snowfall will accumulate faster than we can clear it. Our crews work around the clock to clear as much snow as possible.
After plowing, salt, sand or a mixture of both is applied to the road surface. The salt works to melt the ice or snow, and the sand provides extra traction.
NCDOT owns and maintains a wide array of equipment to help us handle North Carolina winters. As of 2014, we own:
- 1,822 dump trucks fitted with plows and salt/sand spreaders (attached when snow or ice is in the forecast)
- 567 front-end loaders and backhoes
- 393 motor graders
We also outfit pick-up trucks with snowplows to clear less-traveled roads when conditions merit. In addition, we work with local companies to use contract trucks and employees to supplement our own crews and equipment as needed.
Brine, Salt and Sand
NCDOT has brine, salt and sand storage facilities in each of our 14 divisions. Total storage capacity for the state is:
- 162,000 tons of salt
- 1.35 million gallons of brine
Brine is a solution of water and salt that we use as a method of pre-treating roadways in anticipation of snow or ice accumulating on the roadway. The brine contains 23 percent salt – the industry standard – and provides a number of benefits:
- Lowers the freezing temperature of water to about 18 degrees Fahrenheit (-8 Celsius).
- Prevents snow and ice from bonding with the road’s surface.
- Keeps snow from being compacted by traffic, which can turn it into ice.
- Is more effective and coats roadways better than plain salt or sand.
- Gives us time, since we can brine up to 48 hours in advance of a storm as long as it doesn’t rain. Rain washes most of the brine solution off of the roadway.
- Costs 15 cents per gallon to produce. One mile of a single lane of road can be treated for about $6; rock salt costs more than $14 to treat the same stretch of road.
How we make it
NCDOT has brine production facilities in each of North Carolina’s 14 divisions. We make the brine by loading a large hopper with salt, and add water. After it’s agitated and tested for the salinity level we need (23%), it’s loaded onto trucks that spray the mixture onto the roads. We can pretreat with brine in dry conditions when the temperature is above 18 degrees Fahrenheit. If it rains after brining the roads, the brine is diluted and washed off.
Salt and Sand
After the plows clear as much snow as possible, we spread a mixture of salt and sand on the roads, paying special attention to freeway on- and off-ramps. The salt works to melt the remaining snow and ice, and the sand helps break up the ice and adds a little extra traction to help cars stay on the road.
Snow Clearing Priority
NCDOT has a priority policy on which roads are first for snow removal. We evaluate priority based on:
- Traffic volume
- Trucking routes and major business avenues
- Importance to hospitals and emergency routes
Our goal is to get these routes to a “bare pavement” status – leaving no significant ice or snow that could impede the smooth movement of traffic on:
- Four-lane divided highways
- Arterial routes essential to movement in and out of major business centers
Roads that don’t have as much traffic – such as lower-volume streets and neighborhoods – receive treatment after the primary routes are handled. While we try to get all routes treated and cleared as much as possible, we focus our efforts on the primary routes, so these roads may still have some ice or snow on them after we’ve attended to them.
Note: NCDOT does not clear sidewalks, driveways or driveway entrances.
What to Expect
We work hard to make all North Carolina roads safe to drive, especially during the winter storm season. While we do our best, keeping the roads clear at all times during a winter storm may not be possible.
Our crews are assigned specific areas to pre-treat, plow or spread salt and sand. This is why you might see a snowplow or spreader driving without using its equipment. They are simply en route to their assigned location.
Our annual winter weather response budget is based on figures from recent winters and long-term projections. Typically, we budget around $40 million for snow and ice removal and pre-treating.
Safe Winter Driving Tips
Driving in icy or snowy weather can be stressful and dangerous. Click on the links below for winter weather driving tips to help you stay safe on the roads.
Much of safe winter driving comes down to preparation. In addition to making sure your vehicle runs well and is equipped properly for year-round driving, be sure you have:
First, don’t go out unless you absolutely have to. If you must:
- Clear all windows and mirrors of snow and ice. It might be helpful to let your vehicle run for several minutes with both front and rear defrosters on to help the process along.
- Remove as much loose snow as possible from your vehicle’s trunk, roof and hood to keep snow from blowing off and obscuring your vision and that of drivers behind you. Clear off your rear bumper to expose the license plate.
- Be sure that headlights, tail lights, external mirrors and marker lights are free of obscuring snow and ice.
- Bring your cell phone with you, even on short trips. You never know when you might need it.
- Slow down and leave plenty of space between you and the vehicle in front. We can’t stress this enough. Excessive speed is the number one cause of winter weather accidents.
- Do not use your cruise control.
- Drive smoothly, without sudden accelerating, braking or turning.
- Bridges and overpasses freeze long before other parts of the roadway. Use extreme caution and avoid using your brakes on the bridges (this is where slowing down and leaving plenty of space is most important).
- If you find yourself behind one of our vehicles, be sure to leave plenty of space so they can safely apply the brine, sand or salt on the roads. They are usually slower than the rest of the traffic, so pass with extreme caution.
Black ice is the enemy of the winter traveler. Most of the time, you can’t see it until it’s too late. Check out this informative video for more information.
A slide or skid can be unnerving. Keep these maneuvers in mind when driving; better yet, practice in an empty parking lot before you have to use them. Use the same maneuver for front-wheel, rear-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles. In all cases:
- Don’t panic.
- Take your foot off of the accelerator.
- If you have to use the breaks, use them gently (antilock brakes should be applied with gentle, steady pressure; for standard, non-ABS brakes, pump the brake pedal gently to avoid locking up).
- Wait for the car to slow down enough to regain traction before gently accelerating.
- Yield the right of way at intersections.
- Rear-wheel skids
- Steer your vehicle in the direction that your rear wheels are skidding.
- Avoid focusing on what your vehicle may be headed toward and instead focus on getting out of the skid.
- Front-wheel skids
- Shift into neutral.
- Don’t try to steer immediately.
- When your vehicle begins to slow down, steer in the direction that you want your vehicle to go.
- Put the vehicle into gear and gently accelerate.
- Do not spin your wheels; that will only dig you in deeper.
- Turn your wheels from side to side to help clear snow from the sides, and then turn the steering wheel so the tires are as straight as possible.
- Use a shovel to clear the snow in front of and behind all your vehicle’s tires.
- Spread cat litter, sand or salt in the cleared areas around your vehicle’s drive wheels.
- Another strategy is rocking the vehicle back and forth (check your owner’s manual first; some vehicle transmissions may become damaged using this strategy). Shift from forward to reverse and back again, using a light touch on the gas pedal – resist the temptation to spin your wheels.
Social Media - NCDOT is committed to keeping you in the loop during any weather event, which includes regular updates on our social media outlets:
- Our official Facebook page provides current information on storm conditions, with official maps, videos and images of any storms that might affect our transportation network.
- Our NC 12 Facebook page focuses on the effects storms might have on the Outer Banks.
- Our Ferry Division Facebook page brings you timely updates on changes in ferry schedules, including evacuation information if it becomes necessary.
- Follow us on Twitter for up-to-the-minute reports for weather events in all areas of the state.
TIMS - Traveler Information Management System provides real-time information on events that may affect travel across the state.
NCDOT Mobile - Get real-time traffic information using the GPS on your mobile device. Go to m.ncdot.gov.
511 - North Carolina’s toll-free travel information line. Get information on current travel conditions, including major closures, traffic incidents and more on Interstate, state and US routes in North Carolina.
*HP (*47) - North Carolina Highway Patrol. In areas covered by IMAP (Incident Management Patrols) ask for IMAP assistance.