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Missouri and Illinois say they’re ready for the first big snowfall of the season

Deacon Jones, 7, shovels snow on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, outside of his home in south St. Louis. Winter storm Landon blanketed the St. Louis region, the National Weather Service reported 6½ inches of snow at St. Louis Lambert International Airport since the storm began.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Deacon Jones, 7, shovels snow in February 2022 outside of his home in south St. Louis. Missouri Department of Transportation leaders said the organization has hired at least 100 new employees to drive snowplows after having a shortage of drivers last winter season.

Transportation departments in Missouri and Illinois have been preparing to keep roads as clear as possible this winter season — ahead of a series of snowstorms forecast to hit the Midwest over the next week.

Last winter in St. Louis, there weren’t enough snowplow drivers to tackle the roads, but the Missouri Department of Transportation said it hired at least 100 new employees for its maintenance team last year. Bob Becker, Missouri Department of Transportation district maintenance engineer, said employees have been testing equipment and preparing snow trucks over the last couple of weeks to prepare for the first big snowfall of the season.

“We had a big hiring blitz in late summer, early fall trying to get people in the door to fill our trucks for this winter,” Becker said. “We have fewer openings this year than we did last year.”

In a full-blown winter event, MoDOT maintenance staff work 12-hour shifts and trucks will remain out on the roads until they’re clear, Becker said. According to the National Weather Service in St. Louis, this week’s anticipated snow might accumulate more than three inches.

MoDOT has 3,000 snowplow drivers across the state to maintain winter operations for 33,808 miles of state routes, said Charlene Goston, a spokeswoman for the department. About 38,000 tons of salt are ready for use, which are kept in domes across the regions, Becker said.

He said there’s plenty to last through winter, though he mentioned they can access more if needed.

But the biggest concern at the start of winter every year is drivers who aren’t used to navigating snowy and icy conditions, Becker said, as well as making sure the new plow drivers are well trained.

“We have a lot of new employees, and we’re doing better on our hiring, but there’s a lot of inexperience out there also,” Becker said. “We need to get these employees trained and get them comfortable driving those trucks.”

Every October the department holds a “snow drill day” when all employees, including those newly hired, get to practice driving the snow removal vehicles. New hires also get to ride with more experienced plow drivers to observe them during training.

“But still getting that experience behind the wheel for an actual event is always the biggest concern at the beginning of winter,” Becker added. “We have a very specific program that we run to make sure they’re as ready as they can be.

“It’s always nerve-wrecking for the first couple storms of the year, but we’ve done everything we can to be prepared for the snow.”

Across the river, the Illinois Department of Transportation said that due to a mild winter last year, it has more than 558,000 tons of salt on hand statewide. Paul Wappel, a spokesman for the department, said it prepares for winter all year long.

Plow drivers cover 45,000 lane miles throughout Illinois each year, he said. Salt domes and storage facilities are currently at 105% of capacity.

”We've got equipment, we have staff, we have plenty of salt and other materials, we are ready,” he said.

MoDOT and IDOT Winter tips and warnings for drivers

  • Give snowplow trucks plenty of room on the road, as plow drivers might not see you.
  • Remember the road behind the trucks is always more clear, so don’t rush ahead.
  • Drive slow in snowy and icy conditions.
  • Ensure vehicle tires are fully inflated and tread is in good condition.
  • Make sure vehicles have wiper fluid for windshields.
  • Don’t drive distracted and ensure your gas tank is at least half full.
  • Always carry a phone and car charger in case of emergency.
  • Keep an eye out for black ice on bridges, decks, ramps and shaded areas.
  • Slow down and change lanes when approaching a vehicle with flashing lights.
  • Keep an emergency kit with jumper cables, first aid kit, flares, ice scrapers and a traction kit.
  • Visit MoDOT.org for a travel information map and the latest insight on road conditions in Missouri.
  • Check out Getting Around Illinois for the latest on road conditions in Illinois, including the Metro East.
Lacretia Wimbley is a general assignment reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.