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True or false? When it doesn’t snow,
snow and ice response crews have no work to do.

Alisi Kongaika, equip operator

Alisi Kongaika operates a loader to fill the spreader boxes on the back of SDOT trucks with granular salt.


It doesn’t snow much in Seattle–not more than two or three times a times year–and in some years there is no snow at all. But that doesn’t mean SDOT’s snow and ice operations are not active the rest of the winter.

Even when there is nary a snow flake in sight, when temperatures drop, ice can form on streets and bridges. When roadway surfaces are cold enough, and when any moisture is present, even if it is only fog or frost, ice can form, creating a safety concern for Seattle drivers.

It is not uncommon for temperatures in Seattle to hover around freezing, often warming above freezing during the day and dropping below freezing at night. This is why SDOT snow and ice crews are frequently out patrolling streets, applying anti-icer (salt brine) as needed, to keep roads safe and drivable. Depending on conditions, they may also spread granular salt on trouble spots. And when cold temperatures are forecast, crews proactively apply salt brine on streets in advance so they are ready if temperatures drop quickly.

Filling truck with salt brine

An SDOT tank truck loads up with salt brine used for treating city streets.


For example, during the last two weeks, February 1st to the 14th,  there was only one date on which there was more than a trace of snow (Saturday, February 8), but there were eleven dates (including the snow day) on which crews patrolled and treated streets due to freezing road conditions.

Although Seattle has only had significant snow two times since November, crews were out patrolling and treating streets on 71 days, using nearly 30,000 gallons of salt brine.

To date this winter, the tab for snow and operations is more than $370,000. The cost of the snow and ice operations may seem high given that it has only snowed a couple of times this season, but it is not high when work on 71 days, including labor, materials and vehicles, is taken into account. And regardless of what weather actually occurs, the city keeps supplies replentished, equipment repaired, and crews trained, so if nature does give us a serious storm, we’ll be in a postion to reapond.  It’s all to keep city streets safe and drivable.

And when there is no threat of snow or ice? Then the crews resume their regular street maintenance work, such as repairing and cleaning streets. The plows and spreader boxes are taken off the trucks so the trucks can be used for year-round roadway maintenance work.


snow plow truck

SDOT truck fitted with plow and a load of salt is ready to go.