- Associated Press - Friday, March 6, 2015

DALLAS (AP) - Officials in North Texas said lessons learned from two winter storms that largely paralyzed the region in recent years have helped them handle a recent string of snow and ice. Some of the changes made include transportation crews having their own snow plows and a different salt solution being used to pretreat roads.

“Every winter storm is a learning opportunity,” said Tony Hartzel, a Texas Department of Transportation spokesman for the Dallas area.

The Dallas area - which the National Weather Service says usually gets about 1 inch of snow a year - has seen nearly 6 inches so far this winter, but the effects each time lasted only a day or two, with temperatures soon rising.

Officials say that among storms they’ve drawn lessons from are two in recent years: a winter storm hit the area during the 2011 Super Bowl week and a December 2013 storm that left 4 to 6 inches of ice on Interstate 35 north of Dallas, stranding motorists.

But Jodi Hodges, a Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman for the Fort Worth area, said that even with more strategic thinking, they are still at the mercy of Mother Nature. “When you get a lot of accumulation all at once, the materials are only so effective,” Hodges said.

Almost a year after the 2011 Super Bowl, the Texas Department of Transportation announced that the Dallas-Fort Worth area would get its own snow plows that can be hooked up to dump trucks. An official at the time said that in the past, officials had waited for plows to arrive from colder parts of the state. The Dallas area now has 18 snow plows, Hartzel said.

Hartzel said that this winter they started using a brine solution to pretreat roadways. He said that unlike magnesium chloride, another salt solution they’d used in the past, the brine solution can be put on the roads up to a week in advance. “That way our resources are then dedicated and focused on attacking the roadways right as the storm starts hitting and finding those trouble spots quickly,” Hartzel said.

They have also started strategically placing graders, which help break up ice, in areas where wintry weather is expected to hit, he said.

Ben Cernosek, assistant director of Dallas’ Department of Street Services, said that in the years since the Super Bowl they’ve built up their stockpiles of materials to treat the roads. He said back then they didn’t run out, but came close. “From then on we’ve more than doubled our stock,” he said.

The city got two snow plows last year, he said. He said that before getting the plows, they’d improvise with using graders.

Paul Wood, director of technology for a Roman Catholic high school in Dallas, said he thinks area road crews have been as proactive as they can be and though he’s seen an improvement in recent years, he still expects some problems when wintry weather hits. “We don’t have equipment like a Boston or Chicago or a place like that,” he said.

A spokesman for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit said the light-rail system has applied lessons not only from area ice storms in recent years but also from studying weather patterns to figure which portions of their operating area might be the hardest hit and looking at how other transportation system’s tackle such weather.

DART, which shut down during the 2011 Super Bowl and December 2013 ice storms - has been able to operate on a limited schedule during the recent winter weather, spokesman Morgan Lyons said. He said that changes they’ve made include ordering scrapers for some cars to chip away ice from overhead wires. He said they’ve also made sure to communicate to riders ahead of time what the operating schedule will look like in the event of severe winter weather.

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