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The new system allows for the monitoring of hour-by-hour wind, temperature and precipitation to help county officials determine the best time to clear snow from roads. That data is updated with data generated from sensors from weather stations around the state and those embedded in roadways. Tribune photo

Kandiyohi County, Minn., uses new technology for snow removal

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If snow and ice hit the area this weekend, road crews will likely use a new computer-based model that includes “real time” weather and road condition data to help them determine when and where to plow snow and apply salt and chemical to keep roads safe for travel.

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The “maintenance decision support system” is a partnership between the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the University of North Dakota that is also being made available — and is being used by — the Kandiyohi County highway maintenance department.

The state has been using the system for a couple years, but since last fall, county highway departments have been allowed to “piggyback” onto the system, said Dave Fritz, Kandiyohi County maintenance engineer.

“It’s a tool. It’s kind of interesting,” Fritz told the Kandiyohi County Commissioners Thursday.

He showed the commissioners a print-out of data for state Highway 40 near Willmar that included hour-by-hour wind, temperature and precipitation. At noon Thursday, Fritz was going to start looking at conditions anticipated for today. He will likely be looking at those computer models a lot leading into the weekend and the possible winter storm.

That data will be updated with information generated from sensors located at weather stations around the state, sensors embedded in roadways as well as in equipment on snow plows. The information goes into details, like anticipating what the precipitation at a certain temperature will do when it hits pavement that’s at a different temperature.

Snowplow operators will also input data and use the data while on their routes. Students in the meteorology department at UND provide models for weather forecasts, said Fritz.

“You want to get as much data as can,” said TJ Melcher, public affairs coordinator at the MnDOT office in Willmar, in a telephone interview.

The data are updated every three hours, Fritz said.

Based on the road and weather conditions, the model includes recommendations for applying salt, sand or chemicals, at what rate they should be applied and at what time of day they should be applied to maximize effectiveness.

Use of that data, Melcher said, helps crews maintain the roads appropriately while keeping costs and environmental damage low.

Fritz said he is able to access the “road weather information system” through an Internet program that can be used to help make decisions on when to send crews out on county roads and what applications to use.

“It’s very new,” said Fritz, who said it will be interesting to see how reliable the system is over the years. “Nothing is ever perfect.”

The commissioners on Thursday also reviewed projects to protect and maintain drainage ditches as well as potential changes to the drainage ditch policy. There was discussion about consequences for farmers whose field operations damage tile inlets or kill vegetation designed to protect the banks of ditches. Those actions, and repairs to fix them, can cost everyone in the ditch system, said Loren Engelby, who oversees the county’s ditch systems.

The commissioners expressed support for targeting individuals who cause the damage and recouping repair costs from them, rather than all the property owners in the system.

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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