Winter is officially here, and we’ve already had one blast of snowy weather during Thanksgiving weekend.
Forecasters at the National Weather Service said winter in southern Michigan in 2021-22 will be warmer and wetter than normal, which doesn’t necessarily sound like it will be snowy, more rainy or icy. On the other hand, AccuWeather’s winter forecast said the Great Lakes will be in for cold and snowy weather. The regions of Michigan that get lake-effect snow — not Lenawee County — are expected to get a lot of snow as the lakes cool heading into 2022. The “Old Farmer’s Almanac” predicts a cold, dry winter for the southern half of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, which doesn’t sound very snowy, either.
Whatever Mother Nature has in store, local road agencies say they’re ready, which is in contrast to the situation other parts of the country and state have faced regarding having enough snowplow drivers.
“We are 100% staffed on drivers in Adrian,” Aaron Jenkins, a Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman, said.
“Some counties use part time snow plow drivers, but we don’t,” Scott Merillat, executive director of the Lenawee County Road Commission said. “We are fully staffed for winter.”
Troy Rohrbach, Tecumseh’s department of public works superintendent, said the city has the drivers it needs.
“We are ready for winter here in Tecumseh,” he said.
“The Village is very fortunate to have the same number of highly skilled CDL drivers for snow plowing,” Clinton Village Manager Kevin Cornish said.
While MDOT’s Adrian garage is fully staffed, MDOT warned in early November of a looming shortage of snowplow and salt truck drivers. Mark Geib, administrator of the Transportation Systems Management Operations division at MDOT, told the Detroit Free Press he hasn’t seen a snowplow driver shortage anything like this during his 30 years at MDOT.
More: There’s a snowplow, salt truck driver shortage in Michigan: What it means for roads
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The Michigan Department of Transportation contracts out the responsibility for about 75% of the roads to counties and manages the other 25% itself, according to Geib.
Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties in metro Detroit reported many openings for plow drivers, too.
Geib said the shortage is likely due to a competitive job market and the private sector offering bonuses and higher wages, and it can be hard for MDOT to compete because it has preset salaries.
MDOT snowplow wages range from $20-$26 an hour for eight-hour shifts with up to four hours of overtime.
“(Wages) will probably go up over time, especially if this shortage continues,” Geib said. “Because, you know, in the end, we have to have people to do this because winter maintenance is one of the most important things we do to keep the roads safe, keeping them clear, so the economy can keep going.”
Salt supply set
Of course, part of winter road maintenance is using salt to melt snow and ice. Those who take care of the roads say they’re well-stocked to take on winter storms.
“We have plenty of salt this year,” road commission operations manager Jason Schnaidt said.
The county buys its salt through a statewide program called MI Deal. The Detroit Salt Co. has the contract for 2021-22.
“This year the price of salt for the early fill is $56.54 per ton and the seasonal fill is $49.57 per ton,” Schnaidt said. “We have already purchased our 1000 tons for the early fill and we will get the seasonal fill as needed throughout the winter season.”
Those prices are down from 2020, Schnaidt said, when the early fill price was $61.46 per ton and the seasonal fill was $54.77 per ton.
Rohrbach said Tecumseh is guaranteed up to 900 tons of salt through its contract with the Detroit Salt Co.
“That is most likely to be enough salt to get us through winter,” he said.
The city will pay about $50 a ton this year, which is about the same as last year, he said.
Clinton gets its salt from the Detroit Salt Co., too. Cornish said Clinton paid $56.54 per ton this past fall, $54.77 in 2020 and $66.29 in 2019.
“We have adequate supply at this point for an average winter,” he said. “Of course, that depends on how the weather is this winter.”