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Iowa snowplows ready for winter; get some safety tips

Snow will soon be back… be prepared

AMES – Another Iowa winter is around the corner. Mid-October signals the official beginning of the winter season for the Iowa Department of Transportation. Using data collected from previous winter events, the Iowa DOT’s is working to take a proactive approach to help keep you moving safely this winter.

How the Iowa DOT prepares for the winter travel season?

The Iowa DOT is strategically making the switch from construction maintenance activities to preparing our equipment, materials, and staffing for the needs of the winter travel season. The department’s 102 maintenance garages employ 961 equipment operators, mechanics, and supervisors to keep the agency’s 902 trucks, 45 motor graders, 22 tow plows and 11 heavy-duty, self-propelled snowblowers on the road during a winter weather event.

The Iowa DOT has spent the warmer months stocking salt in our storage facilities to capacity for use during the winter. On average, the Iowa DOT uses more than 121,450 tons of salt and 21 million gallons of brine to help maintain safe travel on the more than 9,400-mile primary highway system, consisting of interstate, U.S., and Iowa routes.

Snow plows are inevitable in Iowa

The Iowa DOT uses salt brine, a simple solution of standard rock salt and water, to help with winter roadway maintenance. It can be used to pretreat roadways before a storm, thus preventing snow and ice from sticking to the pavement. Brine is also used to prewet salt before it leaves the truck, increasing its ability to melt snow and ice and helps keep it on the roadway surface.

You may wonder why Iowa DOT trucks may be spraying brine on sunny days. Frost is a major safety factor this time of year. The Iowa DOT’s proactive approach of spraying brine on areas prone to frost prevents the formation of an icy layer, which typically occurs on cold, clear nights. Frost is hard to see on the road’s surface and most people don’t expect it. These unexpected encounters with a frost-covered bridge or roadway can be particularly treacherous when traveling at higher rates of speed, making it more difficult to maintain control of your vehicle.

See plow locations and travel conditions before you venture out

Two of the Iowa DOT’s most popular websites, track-a-plow and, are getting some behind-the-scenes updates this year. Over the past two winter seasons, anyone with internet access has been able to see where Iowa DOT plows are operating and images from the windshields of approximately 400 plows on track-a-plow. Late last winter, those options were also added to, Iowa’s official traveler information website.

This winter season, we’re adding more snowplow cameras and upgrading our existing ones. The new camera installations have begun and it is expected that all 600 cameras will be functioning by November on both the track-a-plow website and the full-featured version of and the 511 app.

Other options

Motorists can access 511’s services through a full-featured website for users with faster internet connections; streamlined website for slower internet connections; mobile-friendly site; Twitter; Facebook; apps for Apple and Android devices; and by telephone by dialing 511 in Iowa or toll-free 800-288-1047 nationwide. For more information about all of these options, visit

What you can do to prepare for the months ahead

Winterize your vehicle. To minimize the possibility of a breakdown, get your vehicle tuned up. Check your vehicle’s wipers, hoses, battery, alternator, belts, tires, brakes, exhaust system, lights, and fluid levels. Make sure your vehicle’s heater and defroster are in good working order and you travel with plenty of gas in your tank. A breakdown is frustrating on a good day, but can be dangerous during wintery weather.

Place a winter survival kit in your vehicle. This kit should contain items to help sustain your life and the lives of your passengers should your vehicle become stranded. These items can include booster cables, candles and matches, a flashlight with fresh batteries, extra blankets and warm clothes, nonperishable food items, a can for melting snow for drinking water, and a snow shovel. Sufficient supplies should be in the kit for all persons traveling in the vehicle. Carrying a mobile phone in your vehicle is also advised for use during an emergency.

Time to kick your winter driving skills into gear

The first snowfall and slick roads are a quick reminder that it’s time to adjust your driving behaviors.

Some very simple changes can help you make the adjustment.

– Wear your seat belt. Every trip, every time.
– Turn off the cruise control. Cruise control does not allow you to let off the accelerator if you hit a slick spot, making it more difficult to maintain control of your vehicle.
– Adjust your speed for conditions. Speed limits are set for ideal driving conditions. Winter weather can create hazards that require slower speeds. – – Remember these simple slogans, “Ice and Snow … Take It Slow” and “Don’t Crowd the Plow.”

For more information about winter preparedness and the Iowa DOT’s snow and ice control program, check the Iowa DOT’s winter safety website.

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