Tuesday, March 5, 2019

What a storm, what a ride! In a snowplow, that is

By Doug Nintzel / ADOT Communications

Yes, the hot weather in Arizona is around the corner. But we can’t help but take another look back at the record-breaking storm that Mother Nature and her good friend, Old Man Winter, tossed at the Grand Canyon State February 20-22. It was the storm that gave me my first opportunity to ride along in one of ADOT’s snowplows.

I was sent from Phoenix to Flagstaff for that Wednesday night through Friday night storm, to work with members of the media on behalf of ADOT. The highlight was the interaction with a dedicated staff of employees who put in a lot of hours to keep our high country highways as clear of snow and ice as possible.

Record snowfall blanketed Flagstaff, especially at the height of the storm on Thursday, Feb. 21. A lot of time was spent riding the storm out at ADOT’s large maintenance yard in east Flagstaff, not far from Interstate 40 and Country Club Road.

That’s the facility where many of ADOT’s snowplow operators moved in and out of during the storm. They had to refuel the vehicles, in frozen conditions, and also load the truck beds with de-icing agents.

I had mentioned my interest in doing a ride-along on one of the snowplow runs as the storm moved through.

Late that Thursday afternoon, I heard a friendly voice say, ‘You ready to go?’  It was Matt Bowles, one of the dozens of ADOT snowplow operators facing off against the snow and ice.

He didn’t have to ask twice. In this case, Matt was driving one of the two “TowPlows” that ADOT operates in the Flagstaff and Williams areas, primarily on Interstate 40 but also on I-17 as needed.

The TowPlow is a combination of a regular (and large) snowplow truck that tows a second plow unit behind it, much like a trailer. That combination allows the operator, in this case Matt, to swing the back plow, with its separate blade, out and clear two lanes of the highway at once.

As you can see from the videos throughout this post, it can be a bumpy ride in a snowplow, especially in a storm like the one in late February, when the blades are pushing away several inches of snow and ice.

There was a lot of great coordination, and communication, taking place between the teams of snowplow operators who work on tandem.

After making a run along I-40 from east Flagstaff west out to Parks, which is east of Williams, and then back again to refuel at the maintenance yard, it was time for Matt Bowles to take the lead position again in the TowPlow, clearing the way along I-17 between Flagstaff and Munds Park.

The sun went down. The heavy snow kept flying at the windshield of the plow. The snow and ice on I-17 fought back against the plow blades, but much of it lost the battle and flew toward the highway’s shoulders.

It was a great run, one that I won’t soon forget. Here’s to those snowplow operators who put in a number of 12-hour shifts so that ADOT’s mission could go on around the clock. We salute you!

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