Freezing weather will see Oxfordshire's 'gritters' back out in force across Banburyshire

Drivers and support crews are on call to spread salt on the county's roads before mercury hits zero.

Monday, 20th January 2020, 2:52 pm
Updated Monday, 20th January 2020, 2:52 pm
One of the gritters treating a dual carriageway

Oxfordshire County Council is calling on people to think about how they get around and make sure they do all they can to stay safe.

"Oxfordshire has a team of over 60 staff including duty officers, supervisors and drivers who are on standby throughout the winter to turn out at all hours to make sure that the priority roads around Oxfordshire are salted and kept as safe as possible during freezing and sometimes treacherous weather so that people can continue to play an active part in their community," said a spokesman.

The gritters are actually salting machines distributing salt that looks like grit - hence the accepted name.

"The key is for the gritters to be ready to go out and round the routes when the conditions require it. But weather is not that simple and rain and snow, which can wash away or cover the salt, can complicate matters," the spokesman said.

In Oxfordshire the county council grits all A-roads, B-roads and some C-roads. This amounts to 1,200 miles per gritting run which is the equivalent of travelling from London to Iceland. There has been no change to the winter maintenance budget in recent years.

"The money we spend relates directly to the conditions on Oxfordshire’s roads in any given year. Last year we spent more than £1.8m gritting Oxfordshire’s roads," the spokesman said.

Paul Wilson manages the council’s winter operation and explained how the decision is made on whether the gritters should swing in to action or not.

He said: “We make that decision on a daily basis based on the detailed bespoke weather forecast we receive for Oxfordshire.

“One of the crucial things councils check to judge whether the gritters should go out or not, are the road surface conditions. We get this information from a number of weather sensors dotted around the county which provide us with lots of information enabling our duty officers to decide whether to treat the roads or not.

“Right the way through from November to spring we take this daily decision. Often it is a straightforward judgement but occasionally there are complications. For instance, the forecast might be telling us that the night will start very cold and frost will form but it’ll later warm up and that there’ll be rain coming in.

“On other occasions there might be snow in the forecast and we’ll want to time the gritting run just right and perhaps fit the snowploughs to the front of the gritters. On such occasions there’s every chance we’d send the gritters out more than once, in heavy snow we will quite often work around the clock until the treated network is clear.

“We know it’s a difficult job for a driver of one of the gritters. Driving down a country road in freezing or snowy conditions at 2am in dark depths of winter is no picnic.

"Gritting is not a magic elixir that prevents the driving hazards that winter brings. It lessens them – it does not eliminate them. Even if we have treated the roads ice can still form on those treated surfaces. Our advice is always that people should drive to the conditions. Don’t drive in December like you would in June or July.”

Things you might not know about gritting:

It’s not grit – it’s salt.

The salt is corrosive and the gritters must be steam cleaned and wax-oiled at the end of the season. Even so, parts have to be replaced due to rust.

Normally the spinners at the back spread of the vehicles are calibrated to spread the salt across the full width of the road. But snow on the ground means that the salt particles don’t bounce as well and so it is important to clear as much snow from the roads as possible as well as spreading the salt to get it where it’s needed.

The wheels drive the spinners that spread the salt – if the gritter isn’t moving it’s not spreading grit, so try not to hold them up! When spreading the gritting vehicles are restricted to a maximum speed of 30 mph

Salt needs traffic to help make it work – driving over helps spread it evenly across the surface and draws the moisture out of the surface turning any moisture to brine

Salt is less effective at temperatures below -7 degrees and care is always needed if you are driving in freezing temperatures even if you can see a road has been salted