Preparing for snow season

Marty Goodman of the Loudon County Highway Department prepares to load his truck with salt before a recent snow event.

Winter has already delivered two relatively minor snow events, but the Loudon County Highway Department is preparing for more potential bad weather as the season continues.

A light dusting of snow and some fallen tree limbs Jan. 3 kept workers busy a couple of days, Eddie Simpson, Loudon County road superintendent, said.

“We’ve had a lot of trees to pick up,” he said.

Thursday’s winter blast was a little more of a challenge.

Snow and sleet started coming down around noon and getting worse as the day went on. Then temperatures began to drop.

“We got out and we put salt on all the primary and secondary roads,” Simpson said.

By Friday morning, the situation looked better.

“There were just a few slick spots up near the Knox County line,” he said.

Simpson said he and his crew will be ready for the next snow event, whenever that might occur.

The weather is always a bit of an unknown until it actually arrives, Simpson said. Preparing for potential disruption on roadways requires making a good guess about the weather and the positioning of resources, he said.

Basic resources that must be ready include vehicles, fuel and lots of salt. Total cost in salt and fuel is about $3,500 for an average event. Federal or state funding is rarely available unless the weather results in a major event that can be declared a disaster.

“I can’t recall a disaster being declared for snow around here,” Simpson said.

Manpower is also important. A major weather event that lasts for days could bring added costs for overtime, he said.

Simpson usually has a full crew of 18 men but illness is always a factor during the winter. Two workers were out sick last week with COVID-19, leaving the department with a crew of 16.

Getting the trucks ready a day or so in advance is necessary. Loudon County has five dump trucks loaded with salt and mounted with scrapers. Three Ford heavy-duty pickup trucks are available to travel roads the dump trucks can’t handle.

Marty Goodman, with Juan Gonzales riding shotgun, was out early in the afternoon Thursday picking up a load of salt at department headquarters on Blair Road in Loudon. Goodman said the roads weren’t too bad at the time and he was hoping they wouldn’t get much worse.

“We’ll be heading back out,” he said.