Plow drivers at the ready should snow fall

Maneuvering a 30-ton snowplow with 12-foot shovels can be a daunting task — even when there’s not a flake of snow on the ground.

While its height gives relatively unobstructed views of the road ahead and power steering allows the driver to turn and reverse the massive machine as easily as an SUV, the bright yellow plow bolted to its front causes the truck to jerk and shudder before settling.

“When I first started, it was about learning what to do and what not to do,” said Richard Brown, a seven-year veteran driver for the Maryland State Highway Administration. “It’s easier at night. During the day can be busy with everyone trying to get back home.”

On Tuesday, state officials allowed reporters to see firsthand what plow drivers face when a storm hits the area and they’re called on to clear the roads.

The trucks are built for heavy-duty work, but the $200,000 versions used by the Maryland SHA boast clean and comfortable cabs, with leather seats, ample leg room and a loud horn controlled by a cord above the steering wheel.

A small, responsive joystick in the center of the compartment controls the movement of the plow.

Mr. Brown, 32, can deftly maneuver the rumbling behemoth to clear the way for cars, buses and trucks. He will be one of more than 200 plow drivers patrolling the roads this winter — and likely as soon as the coming days as the D.C. area readies for what could be its first storm of the holiday season.

But on Tuesday at the State Highway Administration’s statewide operations center in Hanover, Md., Mr. Brown demonstrated the techniques on a course made up of orange construction barrels.

“When you’re pushing wet snow, you don’t want to go too fast. It’s heavy,” he said. “You’ve gotta be on your game — be alert.”

State Highway Administrator Melinda B. Peters said the bad weather moving into the D.C. area “is a great test for getting mobilized.”

“Winter weather brings everything from fog to rain to sleet to snow,” she said. “We’ll see that in the next few days.”

National Weather Service officials said the D.C. area would likely get periods of heavy rain and cold winds leading into Wednesday.

“During the day the winds will go back to the north so it will start getting colder,” meteorologist Kyle Struckmann said. “We’re looking at some point in time the rain changing back over to snow.”

Mr. Struckmann said the Interstate 95 corridor likely wouldn’t see more than an inch of snow — if that.

But the precipitation, if any, would make for an early deployment of the State Highway Administration’s snow-removal resources, this winter budgeted at $46 million. Officials said 380,000 tons of salt is available to help clear the more than 17,800 miles of state roads.

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