Major road changes come into effect today as temperatures drop

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As of today, October 1, National Highways switches over to its autumn and winter operations – a procedure it has conducted every year since the 1960s. From today, it will receive forecasts and updates at various stages every day and from there will decide the course of action.

Many local authorities switch over to autumn and winter operations in November, but National Highways has always switched over in October.

Some local authorities are based in largely urban areas where latent heat in the road surface can keep a road warmer than in a rural area – making those road temperatures up to two degrees warmer. 

This means some councils operating in a city or built-up area may not need to spread salt on roads as early in the season as National Highways which operates nationwide in rural areas as well.

Based on the current weather forecasts, drivers are unlikely to see gritters spreading salt on the network or snow ploughs on the road this weekend.

During some years of the last five-year period, National Highways has salted some of its A-roads and motorways during the month of October when needed.

Although this is not a regular occurrence, a few thousand tonnes of salt was used in 2019.

National Highways works with experts at the Met Office, Metdesk and DTN to closely monitor weather forecasts and are prepared for whatever conditions the autumn and winter season may bring.

Darren Clark, Severe Weather Resilience Manager at National Highways, said it spends five months during the warmer weather gearing up for seven months of operations until the end of April.

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He added: “October is an important month and has been for many years, giving us the opportunity to test and refine our plans before severe weather conditions arrive later in the season.

“This is because as an organisation, we need to be fully prepared and ready for when temperatures drop, so we operate a well-established daily routine.

“It may be during any warmer spells in October the public see our drivers doing ‘dummy runs’ where they take gritter vehicles out along their designated routes.”

These runs are done without any salt on board and are designed to re-familiarise the drivers with the journeys and identify any problems along the routes.

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Over the summer months, vehicles have been maintained and serviced and are in position at their depots ready to go, whenever the call comes.

Drivers have been retrained during the summer season and are on winter rosters together with National Highways’ autumn and winter decision-makers.

Data from independent meteorological experts DTN and Metdesk provides a precise look at road surface temperatures across the road network.

For example, for the South West area of England, National Highways receives route-by-route forecasts four times a day for each of its 40 salting routes to help the team decide whether any salt spreading is needed over the following 24-hour period.

Abigail Oakes, Senior Account Manager at the Met Office, said: “We are delighted to continue our close working relationship with National Highways as we head towards the winter period.”

She added that all kinds of staff are involved in the process, including meteorologists embedded alongside the National Highways team in Birmingham during the autumn and winter.

Met Office staff working in Exeter will deliver and support the teams throughout the year.

She added: “[We] are proud to continue this partnership, which allows for the best possible support for road users during periods of severe weather.”

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