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On watch for winter
January storm has city, county, DOT prepared
Forsyth County uses this vehicle to spread sand and salt during icy conditions. - photo by Jim Dean

On the Net

The Georgia Department of Transportation’s winter weather Web site is

This year, when the weather outside turns frightful, local governments say they’ll be prepared.

As temperatures begin to drop, the city of Cumming, Forsyth County and the state Department of Transportation await with plows, salt sprayers and crews ready to respond to snow and ice.

"We’ve already got our equipment out and made sure all the snow plows and salt sprayers are working," said Tim Allen, Forsyth County’s assistant director of engineering.

Such preparations are reassuring in the week of last January, when crippling frigid weather caught the state and most other entities off guard.

Schools across Georgia closed, some for a week or longer. Roads, including major highways, were covered in ice. Even emergency personnel had trouble navigating the icy streets.

Allen called it the perfect storm.

"Last year, it melted, built up into a slush and then overnight it got really cold," he said. "The next morning, you’ve got a block of ice on the road. Nothing will scrape it off. You have to wait until it warms back up."

And that wait took a nearly a full work week.

The state transportation department recently launched a Web site to provide information on winter road conditions. It will be updated frequently as routes close and open.

Teri Pope, a spokeswoman for the DOT, said staff members have "refocused our winter weather efforts over the last year."

In addition to prioritizing roads, the department increased its supplies to 5,000 tons of salt and 7,500 tons of stone for the district.

"We have updated our overall winter weather plan, adding to our stockpiles of materials in every county of northeast Georgia," Pope said.

"Our full [supply] is now 2,000 tons more of salt and 3,000 tons more stone. We don’t want to risk running low during an extended winter weather event like we did [in January]."

Cumming will handle weather response much differently, said Gerald Blackburn, city administrator.

"It’s hard to buy equipment and maintain it over a period of time," he said.

"And for the city of Cumming, as small as it is, using a contractor seems to be a better economic approach."

The city has set aside $15,000 to hire contractors to respond to inclement weather, which Blackburn said is more than enough to handle severe conditions.

During the January storm, Blackburn said the city spent about $13,000 on four separate contractors.

"It had been about 10 years since we had anything close to what we had [weather-wise]," he said.

"It was bad everywhere and it was such a lick. We were just like every other city and every other city was shut down … you just don’t get hit like that [often]."

Forsyth County has a three snow plows, seven salt trucks and 200 tons of stockpiled salt, which is mixed with sand to help treat the roads, Allen said.

He added the county will track conditions through the National Weather Service and stay in contact with the fire department as inclement weather approaches.

"If anything is predicted, we’ll put our crews on standby, and if we think it’s coming, we’ll hold a skeleton crew over if we think it’s eminent that night," Allen said.

"We’ll call in everyone else if it starts to accumulate beyond what they can handle."

Like the DOT, the county will address roads by frequency of travel. The state will start with interstates and work its way down to multi-lane state routes and then the two-lane ones.

The county will start with major roads like Ronald Reagan Boulevard, Windermere Parkway and Market Place Boulevard.