Officials keep guard up for harsh winter

GAINESVILLE - After an unpredictable summer, officials expect an unpredictable winter as far as weather is concerned.

But that's not stopping the Georgia Department of Transportation from preparing for the worst.

Department spokeswoman Teri Pope held a media briefing Friday to talk about the preparations for winter.

"DOT is ready and waiting for whatever winter weather happens this year," she said. "We have to make sure the roads are open and ready for you to use."

Statewide, the department has 350 snow plows, 350 gravel and salt spreaders, 30,000 tons of fine gravel and 65,000 tons of rock salt.

Every county in Georgia has at least one salt barn. Gwinnett's houses 500 tons of rock salt - or 1 million pounds.

Pope said the state's 2,000 employees began training in the summer for winter weather, and schedules and stretches of road have already been assigned to each person.

"We can be on the road spreading our materials - salt and stone - within an hour," she said.

In addition to the salt and gravel mixture that is spread on roads to prevent icing, the DOT uses calcium chloride when temperatures drop below 20 degrees. A liquid de-icer is placed on bridges and trouble spots.

While the DOT has millions of pounds of salt on standby, Pope said the best thing for people to do during a winter event is stay off the roads.

"It is a very dangerous time," she said.

Pope said the state is due for a blizzard because those seem to occur every 10 years, but Assistant State Climatologist Pam Knox said there is no way to predict whether this winter will be worse than normal.

For the past several years, the state has been affected by meridional flow - a period between El Nino and La Nina seasons when air flows from the north or south.

During periods of meridional flow, weather patterns are harder to predict and can vary greatly from week to week, Knox said.

"We could see more frost, but we could also see more warm days," she said. "It's really hard to say, but we can get severe weather. They should not let their guard down."

The unusually troublesome hurricane season and unseasonably rainy summer isn't an indication for a hard winter, she said.

"There's no statistical relationship from what happens in the summer and what happens in the winter," she said.