All hands on deck as state, local DOTs prepare for winter storm

HALL COUNTY, Ga. — Georgia Department of Transportation crews spent Friday afternoon pretreating roads in northeast Georgia.

Channel 2′s Tom Regan went to the DOT yard in Gainesville where he said things have been going non-stop, working 12 hours shifts loading brine — heavy duty salt water — to spray on roads as a first line of defense against winter weather.

Brine tankers will be taking to the roads Friday night prepping pavement so it will be more resistant to freezing as temperatures drop overnight and into the weekend.

“We are lowering the temperatures at which ice is going to freeze, which creates that hard lockup on the road that is really impossible to plow,” GDOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale said.

[READ: Winter Storm Watch expands farther into metro; Winter Storm Warning issued for NE counties]

The first winter storm of the new year promises a wild mix of weather including rain, sleet, freezing rain and snow.

The areas potentially to get the hardest punch are the rural and mountain counties in northeast Georgia.

Closer to Atlanta, heavy rain may precede frozen precipitation.

So what happens if that washes the brine off road surfaces?

“We will immediately have crews out there putting down different material, straight salt, rock salt, that mixture where you can get traction,” Dale said.

Hall County’s Emergency Operations Center will partner with the GDOT and other agencies to help the public ride through the winter storm and take some of the burden off local 911 operators.

“We will have our law enforcement partners, fire rescue, EMS and 911 folks will be here to coordinate all those calls coming in,” Hall County EMA director Casey Ramsey said.

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Rain turning to sleet or freezing poses the greatest threat from the incoming storm, which could down trees, powerlines and make roads impassable.

That’s why many people who Regan spoke with said they’re cancelling any plans they have for Saturday and Sunday.

“We live up in Cornelia, so we are not going anywhere,” Kaity Black said.

“You worried about losing electricity?” Regan asked another man.

“Might. You never know,” the man answered, who did not give his name.

GDOT said it has to pretreat nearly 20,000 miles of roadway, and they need to get it all done before the winter storm rolls in over the weekend.

In Gwinnett County, emergency officials told Channel 2′s Michael Seiden that it’s all hands on deck.

The county gave Seiden exclusive access to the emergency operations center there, where they tuned into an official briefing from the National Weather Service.

He also saw representatives from many cities throughout the county who attended the meeting, making sure everyone is on the same page.

Officials from Gwinnett County told Seiden they aren’t going to activate their emergency operation center until this weekend, but as soon as they get a better idea of the impact the storm is going to have, they are ready to implement their plan.

“As the event moves in, we will roll into 12-hour shifts. We will have staff available tomorrow, but as the event hits tomorrow night, we will move into 12-hour shifts. We’ll put out a brine treatment ahead of the rain coming in tomorrow. We will also be ready with salt sand and gravel for our bridges,” said Lewis Cooksey, director of the Gwinnett County Department of Transportation.

Seiden asked the county about the impact of COVID-19, specifically on staffing, and they said they are well-staffed in their essential departments and will be able to respond and provide services that residents depend on.

Earlier in the day, the city of Atlanta held a news conference outlining their plan of attack for this storm.

They showed Channel 2′s Justin Wilfon that they have 40 trucks ready to go along with 5,500 tons of salt and 20,000 gallons of brine if things get dicey in the city.

They also said they have about 300 employees ready to work two shifts despite some staffing issues because of COVID-19.

Mayor Andre Dickens said the city has reached into other city departments to make sure they have enough staff to handle this storm.

As of right now, the crews plan on first hitting the streets early Sunday morning.

“We’re getting ready today — on Friday — to start looking at the conditions on the ground, in particular being ready watching the forecast, because if it snows that’s one thing, but if it’s ice, that’s another thing,” Dickens said.

If this is an ice event for Atlanta, the city said they would ask you to stay home because that is a much more difficult thing for them to tackle.

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