By CHELSEY POLLOCK
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- Rumor had it that Monday was to bring the first snowfall to southern New Hampshire, but for Derry’s superintendent of highway operations Alan Cote, predicting winter weather is no guessing game.
“Compared to 20 years ago, the interactive, real-time radar that we can go online to see has made a world of difference in our business,” Cote said Monday. “We’re able to really pinpoint approximately what time a storm is going to come in and leave.”
And while no snow fell in Derry on Monday, Cote said he and his army of town employees and contracted drivers will be ready when it does.
Last week, Cote said a stockpile of about 2,500 tons of salt was delivered to Derry to prepare for the winter season, at about $56.76 per ton. Over the course of an average winter, Cote said the town can go through 3,800 tons of salt.
Town staff are working to finish recalibrating all of the town’s salting trucks, Cote said, and snow plows have been painted and cutting edges sharpened, he said.
And town employees and the 20 or so contracted plow and salt truck drivers have begun to meet to discuss driving safety and salt reduction.
“We’re ready when it hits us,” Cote said.
But planning for just how hard hit the town will be each year is far from an exact science.
This year, Cote has budgeted $205,000 for salt purchases, $203,000 for contracted services and $120,000 for overtime pay using a 10-year average of costs for winter weather maintenance.
And when that first winter storm does roll in, Cote said he and his staff start preparing the night before a big snow.
“We can’t start throwing salt down until there is moisture on the road, but typically during a winter storm, we load a truck the night before and talk to the crew about coming in,” he said.
Police officers on patrol then contact three on-call crew members at the sight of that first snow falling, he said. The on-call crew then decides how many drivers need to be called in and when, he said.
At full force, Cote said the town has 40 pieces of equipment out on the streets as they work to clear Derry’s 165 miles of town roadway.
Another eight private roads are declared “winter maintenance roads” while they await acceptance as a full town road and are plowed and salted during a storm.
While town staff do what they can to get ready for winter, Cote said there’s plenty that residents can do to help out.
“Move back basketball hoops for winter time and pay attention to things that might be out by the road and in harms way after they are covered by snow,” Cote said. “Check your mailbox to make sure it’s solid and keep it as far away from the road as you can.”
Residents are also urged to follow winter parking requirements, which prohibit all overnight parking on town roads and parking lots from November through April.
And Cote said that his advice for drivers this winter is the same as always — drive for the weather and don’t pass a snowplow.
“The roads are always safer behind a snow plow,” he said. “You might drive slower, but you’ll get where you’re going a lot safer.”