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Two winters ago ice and snow struck the region, with the cold weather arriving late in the season and persisting into spring. Last winter was quite different with wind, rain and flooding bringing disruption to transport networks, power supplies and many local communities.
Highways staff receive regular updates on weather conditions from the Met Office and a specific forecast for Wiltshire which is produced using national and local data from weather stations located at strategic points on our road network. The most up-to-date information is used to make decisions about when the team can go salting.
The sight of the big yellow lorries on the county’s roads is a sure sign winter is upon us, and all 48 of Wiltshire Council’s gritters and snow ploughs are now on standby ready for action. The council currently has a reserve of 14,000 tonnes of rock salt in stock.
Every year the gritters spread thousands of tonnes of rock salt on the county’s road network to reduce the risk of accidents caused by ice. The standard gritting route covers around 725 miles, or a quarter of the county’s road network. This can be increased to cover up to half the network if the weather is particularly severe.
The gritter fleet is the county’s first line of defence against snow and ice, and the crews work through the night to keep the county’s roads open in particularly severe weather.
There are also a number of smaller gritters and ploughs for use in town centres and housing estates. In addition, more than 100 farmers are ready to help out should they be needed.
Cllr Philip Whitehead, Conservative cabinet member for highways contract, said: “It’s all about keeping traffic moving safely throughout the county. Making sure the gritter fleet is ready for any cold weather is the core of our winter maintenance programme, although we are always ready to react to floods and high winds if needed. Motorists and other road users should also help themselves with some simple steps such as checking the weather forecast before they travel, planning their route and performing simple regular checks on their vehicle. In severe weather conditions all road users need to ask themselves if their journey is really needed, and they must never assume a road has been gritted.”
During the average winter the fleet makes 40 routine runs and uses up to 9,000 tonnes of rock salt, which is delivered to eight county depots during the summer from mines in Cheshire. There are also 1,600 salt bins to keep topped up across Wiltshire, and the council routinely works with town and parish councils to supply them with their own salt to use in areas they consider most needy.