BLUE EARTH - In Minnesota, snow is always a possibility in the winter months. If you find yourself behind a snow plow, Faribault County Engineer John McDonald said there are some things to keep in mind.
"The biggest thing is slow down and give the guys time to get their jobs done safely," McDonald said.
Clearing all those roads takes time.
"It's like plowing from here to Canada and back," he said.
The county is broken up into 12 designated routes, but Faribault County doesn't plow all the roads. The state is responsible for Interstate 90, Highway 169, and Trunk Highways 253, 254, 22 and 109.
"We don't do the township roads; that's dependent on each township," he added.
It may seem like your road is the last one to get plowed, but the county drivers all go out at the same time. What time they start is dependent on what the weather is dishing out.
"Everything is dependent on the storm," McDonald said, "when it comes in, how heavy it is, and the wind. Sometimes the guys go out when it hasn't snowed, it's just drifting.
"Typically, we try to clear driving surfaces first," he said. That means the bituminous roads; then they do the gravel roads. "[We] get all the roads reasonably passable as quick as we can."
That's if it's daylight.
"We won't plow at night, after dark, except for emergency calls," McDonald said. "If the sheriff calls us out for something, we'll go out, but typically we don't go out at night."
If those big plows are out, be careful.
"Typically, when the plow goes by, there's a plume of snow behind the plow," McDonald explained. "Don't [follow too close and] get caught up in the plume of snow. Slow down so the driver can do his work safely."
Minnesota Department of Transportation on its website, www.dot.state.mn.us, recommends staying back at least five car lengths behind the plow, far from the snow cloud. Snowplow operators will pull over when it is safe to do so to allow traffic build-up to pass.
While it may be tempting to pass a slow-moving plow, McDonald says it's "not a real good idea."
First, there's a reason that plow is out on the road clearing snow, so the unplowed road probably isn't in good shape for driving. Second, passing a plow is more complicated than passing a car or truck: The plow itself is large, and the blade stretches across the driving lane. Also plow drivers have limited visibility due to the weather conditions and major blind spots not picked up by their rearview or side mirrors.
"There's a lot going on when a guy's going down the road, a lot to be looking at for the operator," McDonald said. "When you throw in someone trying to pass, it can make an unsafe situation."
Ultimately, one thing is important to McDonald.
"Safety is our No. 1 goal," he said. "We want to make sure everyone gets safely to where they have to go."