Thursday, 1 March 2018

Snow updates, March 2018

It might be March but spring is definitely not in the air. The snow continues to fall and looks like its set to for the remainder of the week and the weekend too. Updates below.

Update, 4pm March 2nd: Freezing rain threatens further ice
Buckinghamshire is currently being hit by sleety freezing rain which has the potential to turn untreated surfaces icy quite quickly.

Although the majority of main roads remain open, all routes are difficult and with continuing heavy snowfall conditions are only going to get worse through this afternoon and evening.

Gritting crews are remobilising now and will run right through the late afternoon and evening. Second crews are resting in preparation for another tough night, with persistent snowfall expected from around 4pm to midnight. Specific timing for action is being decided at a local level based on forecasts and feedback from the gritter drivers, but all areas will be treated tonight.

Roads being cleared by gritters in Ivinghoe

Weekend forecast:
Conditions on Saturday morning may become slightly drier and warmer, although forecasts could change. Should temperatures rise, flooding of roads through melting snow, especially where drainage is covered by deep drifts, could be an issue. TfB emergency crews are primed.     

Last night and earlier today:
TfB gritter drivers and winter teams had very busy night last night, Thursday 1st March, with several gritting and ploughing runs carried out across the county. During the morning rush hour the majority of main roads were covered with heavy slush, but the main problem was drifting snow in exposed areas with ploughs battling some very heavy and fast forming drifts. 

A rural road in the Wycombe area, early hours of Friday morning (2nd March)

All areas have been busy throughout the morning. Although fresh snowfall has been minimal, the north of the County in particular has been dealing with heavy drifts of blown snow from adjacent land, with the A413 between Whitchurch and Winslow, the A4010 at Risborough, and part of the A418 all closed earlier today.

Snow down, baby!
Transport for Buckinghamshire responded to a call for help this morning from their colleagues at Wycombe District Council housing department. Residents at Saunderton Lodge, WDC’s emergency accommodation on the outskirts of town, were snowed in – and three women at the lodge had gone into early labour.

Snow drifts from the surrounding fields had overwhelmed the 400m+ driveway causing residents vehicles to get stuck, blocking the way. Kind volunteers from the public worked with contractors to try and dig people out, but reinforcements were soon needed.

A call was made to the County Council resilience team asking for help, and a TfB crew was sent out ASAP with a snow plough and gritter to save the day. At the last report they were all still safe and warm at the lodge, but safe in the knowledge that they could get to hospital when the time comes!

Everyone at TfB is delighted they could help out, and wishes the expectant mums all the very best for the safe arrival of their snow babies! 

High Wycombe gritters clear the way at Saunderton Lodge

Thurs 1st March

Today we are doing a gritting run countywide at 2pm and another later on this evening at 7pm. Persistent but largely light snow has been seen this morning, and some drifting in the high winds has seen treated roads remain slushy but with black driving surfaces. Our crews have been active all morning across the County, covering secondary routes and now returning to primary routes. Heavy but less frequent flurries are likely this afternoon.

Our main concern overnight is with the expected very low temperatures. Ice will form on the untreated network and it is even possible that it will form on the treated roads too. With the predicted snowfall tomorrow this does mean that driving conditions could be difficult during the rush hour. 

"The gritters have been through town centre and all clear this morning." Tweet from Cllr Warren Whyte, Member for Buckingham East, this morning - 1st March '18

How do we know when to grit?

Over the last few days we have been busy salting the county’s roads, covering both our primary and secondary routes. Every day the temperature of the road surface and residual salt is monitored, and our dedicated winter team receive updates regarding air temperature, likelihood of snow and ice, wind speed and so on. This information is used to decide whether gritting is necessary or not. Over a typical winter period, we can expect to complete about 50 -55 runs but so far we have already completed 72 runs – and the season isn’t over yet!

Transport for Bucks has 25 individual primary salting routes covered by a dedicated gritter (all with their own names!). Each of our gritting runs uses between 55-85 tonnes of salt over the 25 routes, depending on the spread rate decided and also whether the salt is a pre-wet mix or whether it is used dry.

County Councillor Mark Shaw, Cabinet Member for Transportation has praised the winter maintenance and gritting crews:

“I’d like to thank the crews for all they have done over the last couple of days and all that they will continue to do over the coming days. Over the winter period, we have 50 gritter drivers who are on call every day for six months – including the entire Christmas period and New Year’s too! It’s a hard job but our crew do it well and without complaint. I know I speak on behalf of the entire county when I say how grateful we are.” 

Gritting runs are made up primary, secondary and snow routes:

Primary – or precautionary – routes are the most important routes that keep everyone moving. The precautionary routes make up 44% of the total network of the county’s A and B road network. These runs cover 1405km of road! In an ideal scenario it is these roads that are treated prior to the formation of ice.

Secondary routes are treated in the event of prolonged severe weather once primary routes are treated and are running well. The secondary routes cover classified roads that aren’t included in the primary routes and unclassified roads that serve communities of 200+. Sometimes, cycle ways and footways in key pedestrian areas might also be gritted as part of the secondary routes.

Snow routes, as you might expect, are used when there is particularly heavy snow. When this occurs, the winter service begins working as a 24 hour operation and we focus on the County’s most strategic routes – around 22% of the overall network. Once the snow has cleared sufficiently, we go back to using our primary routes as soon as possible. 

Mutual aid

Although our focus must rightly be the main roads of Buckinghamshire we are delighted to assist our colleagues across Buckinghamshire wherever possible. As an example, this week we have added to our salting route around Stoke Mandeville to assist with preparations for the Winter Paralympic Heritage Flame Lighting Ceremony, and have provided salt to assist organisers in ensuring pedestrian routes are safe to access.

For more information on our winter service, check out our '5 things you need to know...' blog from last December.