Forecasts of snow tonight and Wednesday have officials with the Missouri Department of Transportation preparing for the first snow of the season.
On Monday, MoDOT workers loaded their cinder spreaders into the trucks. With the salt already mixed, road crews are ready for whatever awaits them this week, noted Tom Henson, maintenance superintendent II for MoDOT's Southeast District, which is headquartered in Sikeston.
"Now we're just kind of on standby, waiting to see what happens next," Henson said. "We do the preparation when a chance of winter weather moving into the area is predicted. After it passes through, we get back to doing our regular maintenance work."
The National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky., forecasts a chance of rain before midnight today, then snow and sleet likely with lows near 33. Snow accumulation of less than half an inch is possible.
On Wednesday periods of snow are expected with 100 percent chance of precipitation and a possible snow accumulation of 3-5 inches. A chance of snow is likely later in the night.
Last month all areas were stocked with snow-removal materials. MoDOT's Southeast District has close to 150 vehicles ready to plow snow when the time comes as well as nearly $1 million of salt to treat roadways. In a given year, the district spends about $1.5 million on labor, materials and equipment for snow and ice removal.
MoDOT maintenance worker Alan Hueckel said the preparation can save up to an hour per truck simply by working ahead of a winter storm.
"Then if a snow storm does come, all we have to do is hook up the plows. Plus it's harder to see at night to attach the equipment," Hueckel explained.
During bad weather, MoDOT prioritizes all roads with the highest traffic volumes treated and cleared first. These include interstate highways and other major routes, which are continuously plowed and treated throughout a storm. Workers are on the roads 24 hours during storms, Henson noted.
"If you do see us out there, please appreciate us," Henson said. "You can catch up on us quicker than you think."
The most heavily traveled sections of other routes are the next priority, and they are plowed until they're open to traffic. These routes will be treated with salt where snow and ice conditions may make driving more difficult, such as steep hills, sharp curves, intersections and bridges. Lower-volume routes are the next priority.
"The best advice for motorists is to stay safe at home during snowstorms," operations engineer Mike Helpingstine said in a recent release. "If you need to drive, give snowplows plenty of room and don't pass them. Always stay alert and drive cautiously, especially during the winter season."
MoDOT plows roads as often as necessary to keep them open. This may mean several trips on the same route, and private driveway entrances can become blocked with cleared snow.
To make it easier on residents who shovel their own driveways and sidewalks -- and on MoDOT workers, the department of transportation asks residents to make an open area along the shoulder of the entrance to the drive and to place the snow on the shoulder in the direction of traffic so snow plow blades will push a limited amount into the driveway entrances.
Meanwhile, road workers will pray for no snow -- something they always do, Hueckel said.
"Because if it snows that means we're away from our families during the holidays," Hueckel explained.
But Hueckel and others shouldn't worry. So far the National Weather Service is calling for sunny skies and cold temperatures on Christmas Day. The high is expected to be 23 degrees.