- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 8, 2017

HANOVER, Md. (AP) - The Maryland State Highway Administration is preparing for winter with improved technology that the agency said will clear roads more efficiently, curb salt usage and provide more information to drivers.

The highway agency on Wednesday demonstrated an infrared measurement system and a larger truck, which they hope will help improve drivers’ experience.

Whether and when the state will be hit with inclement weather is unknown, but the agency is striving to be prepared for the worst case, highway administration spokesman Charlie Gischlar said.

While the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang predicts more snow than in recent years, those estimates will likely change over the coming weeks, said Tim Canty, associate research professor in the Atmospheric and Oceanic Science Department at the University of Maryland, College Park.

“We’re in a transition region, so it’s difficult to assess,” Canty said. “We’re at the border between the north and south. Then we have the sea to our east and mountains to our west so it’s very difficult to forecast.”

While the new trucks should help ease commutes, the infrared system will help forecasters and residents alike, WBAL-TV meteorologist Lowell Melser told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.

The Lufft NIRS31-UMB, a non-invasive infrared system, can be used to instantly measure road temperature, freeze point temperature, ice depth and friction. These machines, which are placed on highway signage and other tall poles near the road, provide data on the state highway agency’s website and can be accessed by anyone, Jerad Hoke, of Communications Electronics, said.

Communications Electronics is a contractor for the highway agency that provides, installs and maintains the infrared machines.

This sensor, which is going into widespread use this winter, was tested last year. All the data it provides is immensely helpful, and surface temperature will be particularly helpful to predict whether snow will stick to the roads, Melser explained.

“Forecasting is so unreliable, so you can just get lost in this trove of information,” Melser said.

Additionally, the state will be using more salt brine, a water mixture of 23 percent salt, which is more environmentally friendly, agency officials said. This year they have designated certain routes in the state as “liquid only snow routes” where they will only use brine unless there are blizzard conditions.

In case of blizzard-like conditions, the agency will send out “heavy-duty tow trucks to strategic locations” and use the standard granular salt.

Last year, they reduced their salt usage by 50 percent using more salt brine than granular salt, agency officials said.

While too little salt isn’t effective, too much salt actually promotes freezing, said Ben Durbin of Communications Electronics.

SHA also presented their purchase of nine new “quad axle” trucks. These trucks, which cost $212,000 - $56,000 each more than a standard truck - can carry more than double the amount of salt and 40 more gallons of fuel.

These trucks are helpful for clearing roads in rural Maryland, where there are long stretches of road and little time to refill, multiple snow plow drivers said Wednesday. Quad axle trucks will allow longer, more efficient trips so certain routes don’t require extra salt.

The highway administration identified high-traffic routes in Anne Arundel, Allegany, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties where these trucks will be stationed.

With so many factors impacting meteorology, it’s unknown how much snow or ice the region will receive this winter, Canty said. If Maryland is hit hard, the State Highway Administration hopes that their new trucks, infrared machines and salting procedures will make a difference.

“We hope that these changes can help ease the impact of winter conditions” in Maryland, highway agency administrator Gregory Slater said. “With more transparency from these machines, citizens can be better prepared and safer.”

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