NewsGreat Falls News


Plow drivers work to keep Montana drivers safe during snow storms

The Great Falls District of the MDT utilizes six trucks
Posted at 5:03 PM, Oct 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-29 00:17:49-04

Icy and snow-covered roads made for dangerous driving across Great Falls and the region on Monday. Lt. Doug Otto of the Great Falls Police Department said that the GFPD responded to 27 weather-related road incidents as of 2 p.m. on Monday. There were 22 non-injury crashes, two injury crashes, and three hit-and-run incidents.

The Montana Department of Transportation hasn’t officially entered their winter schedule yet, but that hasn’t stopped them from pulling out all the stops to keep the roads clear during the fall snowstorms.

The Great Falls District of the MDT utilizes six trucks, which often travel together to ensure the roads that they oversee are thoroughly cleaned, salted, and sanded.

Great Falls Maintenance Superintendent Scott Western explained that the state, the city, and the county all have their assigned roads and routes to keep clear.

“We have six dedicated trucks to deal with the urban area of Great Falls, the main state-maintained routes,” said Western. “We have three that maintain I-15 from Ulm to Vaughn, and then our primary roads, 87 North to Fort Benton and the five-lane heading East towards Belt. And then through the course of the storm we adjust our trucks accordingly to deal with our secondary routes. They’re a lower priority. We have our state-maintained routes, the city has their routes that they maintain, and then of course the county takes care of the routes within the county that are theirs.”

The plows usually hit the roads before the snow stops falling, which means that the snow and sand that they put out could be covered up quickly.

Even if you see a plow clearing the road in front of you, it’s still important to take extra precautions when driving in these hazardous conditions.

“Drive safe and prudent for the conditions. Allow extra time,” Western said. “Plow trucks don’t stop on a dime; big trucks don’t stop on a dime. You need to drive accordingly. (You) should never be texting and driving. They can always utilize our 5-1-1 road reporting system. It’s an online app to get current road conditions and then they can adjust their schedules accordingly and allow that extra time if the roads are in poor condition.”

Most importantly, if you see a plow, do not try and pass it. The road conditions coupled with the size of the plows and limited visibility make passing a plow a dangerous and unnecessary task.

“Do not crowd the plow, or the snow cloud, they say,” explained Western. “Hang back, let us do our job. At some point in time we will turn around, we will let traffic go. Do not try to pass a plow if you can’t see because we kick up all the snow and create a snow cloud so it’s very dangerous to be able to see to pass a plow.”

For more information about safety around plows, click here to visit the MDT website .

From the MDT Deicing, Plowing & Sanding page:

  • Traction Sand: Traction sand is crushed aggregate extracted from local gravel sources. Sand doesn't melt ice. It is applied to provide temporary traction during a storm event. Unlike chemicals, sand doesn't lose its performance as the temperature drops. During extended below zero cold snaps, sand accompanied by a snowplow and educated operator may be the only tool left.
  • Magnesium and Sodium Chlorides: Chlorides work like anti-freeze by lowering the freezing temperature of water and preventing ice from forming a strong bond to the road. It helps keep roads from becoming slick, improves safety and reduces accidents.Magnesium chloride is a salt compound extracted primarily from the Great Salt Lake, with added corrosion inhibitors, used to prevent or remove the buildup of ice and snow on the road. The effective working temperature for magnesium chloride is above 10 F on the road surface.Sodium chloride is used in liquid and solid form and is primarily extracted from the evaporation of sea water. The effective working temperature for sodium chloride is above 15 F on the road surface.


  1. Allow extra time to get to your destination.
  2. Clean off your car. Keep windows, mirrors and lights clear of snow and ice.
  3. Turn off cruise control.
  4. Always buckle up.
  5. Slow down in poor visibility conditions.
  6. Maintain a safe distance behind other vehicles.
  7. Expect ice on bridges and in shady spots.
  8. Don't pass snowplows unless it's absolutely necessary.
  9. Prepare your vehicle for winter driving at the start of the season.
  10. Check to be sure all four tires are in good condition.
  11. Don't wait until the last minute to get snow tires mounted.
  12. Keep an emergency travel kit in your car.