By Ty Filley
Photo By Hillary Ehlen
There are very few things in life that dictate how we humans go about our days as much as snow. The stress-inducing powder forces many habitual alarm snoozers to forego their morning ritual and swap their soft blanket for a snow blower. It can make it even worse if their heating hasn’t kicked in yet or they have run out of heating oil, so it is no wonder that they’ll go onto websites like PayLessForOil.com as well as others, to save money to heat their home as much as possible, helping those snowy mornings a little bit easier. Snow also has the ability to bring complete strangers together in a common goal. If you ever lose faith in the existence of “North Dakota Nice™” all you have to do to believe again is get your car stuck in a snowdrift.
Within minutes, a seemingly endless stream of assistants will offer their car pushing expertise, whether you want it or not. But most of all, snow has the power to test our mettle as a community. We brave the cold, blizzards can’t stop us and Fargo’s residents can walk on ice with the grace of winter Olympians.
A shining example of this winter-proof determination is The City’s snow plow operators. They exist as commuters’ and residents’ 24-hour safety blanket.
The crews work round the clock after snow falls to clear roads for other drivers. They scrape the fresh powder from all 2,100 lane miles in Fargo. If you are not familiar with the term lane miles, the term is used to measure the total length and lane count of a given highway or road.
For example, if a stretch of road is a mile long, but has 4 lanes, it contains four-lane miles. A plow can cover one lane per sweep, making the feat of clearing Fargo’s roads a pretty momentous task. For context, if all of those lane miles were laid in a row, it would almost reach to Anchorage, Alaska.
Of course, clearing the snow is only part of the job. It has to be removed after it has been pushed aside. This in itself is another monumental task. In 2019, City crews filled and hauled off tens of thousands of truckloads of snow.
Much of this work in the non-residential sections of Fargo must be done under the cover of darkness, to keep from disrupting daily life. This hauled snow is brought to a colossal pile near the Fargo Landfill. This temporary “Mount Fargo” can reach heights of nearly 100 feet tall, and contains so much snow and ice it will not entirely melt until the warmer months of the year, sometimes surviving well into June.
Accomplishing these tasks takes some serious planning and innovation. The Fargo Public Works Department recognizes people still need to drive to work, buses need to bring thousands of students to school and first responders can’t take a day off, despite snowfall.
Clearing residential streets is already a tall order, especially when you consider cars parked on the street, mailboxes and other things to avoid. Imagine trying to guide an elephant through an alley, while avoiding hazards.
To accomplish this, the Fargo fleet’s plow trucks employ vehicle-mounted lasers, which can see right through large snow drifts and help drivers quickly get through congested lanes while cleaning up the roadways. Those lasers are just one example of how the City has embraced technology, but it’s always looking for ways to improve service.
Some cities equip their snow plows with devices known as “snow gates.” The attachments are utilized in coordination with the regular plow to keep pushed snow from ending up at the end of residential driveways. That snow, if pushed to the end of a driveway, can harden and become rigid.
The City is looking into implementation of snow gates through a feasibility study in 2020. This would be the first step in acquiring and applying snow gates to the City’s fleet. The City of Fargo is committed to continual improvement and innovation.
The next time flakes fly and snow piles up, remember Team Fargo has your back.
Whether the snow falls at three in the afternoon or three in the morning, dozens of snow plow operators will be clearing streets round the clock until the job is done. The City’s services must be fitting for the can-do lifestyle of its residents. As long as people call Fargo home, snow may have the power to change our days, but it will never be able to stop us. Until that changes, our operators will be ready, no matter how frightening the forecast may be.