DOT Answers Common Winter Weather Road Questions

A NC Department of Transportation crew spreads brine Tuesday afternoon prior to Wednesday’s snowfall. Photo by John Payne

North Carolina experienced its first big winter storm of the season this week. During these events, the DOT says they receive a lot of questions about how highway crews prepare for and respond to winter storms. Here are some of the most common questions:.

Why Does the DOT Sometimes not Pre-treat the Roads?

Our crews often treat roads with a salt and water mixture called brine that helps prevent ice from forming on the roads at the beginning of the storm.

To be most effective, the brine must be applied on dry roads when the temperature is above 18 degrees. So, if the forecast calls for an event to begin as all rain, the crews won’t pre-treat because the brine would be washed away. Interestingly, brine is about half the cost of rock salt.

When Will my Road be Cleared?

DOT is responsible for more than 163,800 lane miles of roads, so it must prioritize which roads to target first. Interstates and U.S. routes are cleared first because they are essential for connectivity.

Once those roads are clear, crews shift to N.C. routes, then lower-volume primary routes, secondary roads then subdivisions.

Why Did a Snowplow Drive by my House With its Plow Up?

Drivers have specific routes they are assigned, so the driver was likely on the way to that route or back to the maintenance yard to replenish salt supplies.

Can I Get Home?/How Do I Get Home?

The best way to get information about specific road conditions is to go to There you can search by route, region or county. You can also view traffic cameras and find links to other important information.

What is Black Ice and How do You Treat It?

Black ice is snow or ice that has melted and refrozen into thin layers. Because it looks like a wet spot on the road, it appears black like the pavement. To treat it, the department applies rock salt to aid in melting. Sand is sometimes added to help increase traction and break down the ice.

NC DOT does its best to treat areas it knows are prone to black ice, but because it is in isolated spots and forms quickly, it’s not possible to treat every spot. The best way to avoid black ice is to stay off roads unless you absolutely must go out. If you do, drive slowly and leave plenty of space between vehicles in front of you.

Winter Weather Safety Tips

Leaving space between vehicles is good advice anytime we have inclement weather. Below are some additional important safety tips to keep you and your family safe.

Staying off the roads during snow and ice is the best option, but if you must travel:

  • Slow down. Speed is the primary cause of wrecks in winter weather;
  • Approach bridges and overpasses with extreme caution as they become icy first. Don’t apply your brakes while on a bridge;
  • Treat intersections where traffic signals are out as a four-way stop;
  • Stay at least 200 feet behind active plows. This also allows them to do their job; and
  • Drive smoothly without sudden accelerating, braking or turning.