Minnesota’s weather can change on a dime and so can road conditions, especially when winter brings snow, sleet and ice.
This winter the Minnesota Department of Transportation is changing the way it describes road conditions in an attempt to give motorists who turn to its online 511 traveler information service a more precise idea of what they will experience while driving during inclement weather.
So it’s out with the nebulous descriptions such as good, fair, difficult and hazardous, and in with simple terms such as normal, partially covered, completely covered, travel not advised and closed.
The old terms “were not real specific and were very subjective,” said Kelly Braunig, MnDOT’s 511 coordinator. “For some, they’d see ‘fair’ and think roads were clear. We were getting complaints. Even though we had descriptions [of what our old terms meant] on a separate Web page, most folks didn’t go there.”
Now the users of the popular 511 site, which was accessed more than 2.8 million times between October 2013 and April 2014, will have that information displayed on the color-coded map designed to allow motorists to quickly visualize what conditions are really like.
Normal: The roads will be green. Normal means that no adverse driving conditions exist. Still, motorists should remain alert for wet pavement and isolated icy bridge decks if temperatures are at or below the freezing mark.
Partially Covered: Marked in blue. This is a new term that means that ice, slush, sleet or snow is accumulating and covering up to 50 percent of the roadway. Motorists should expect roads to be slick, snow packed or have ruts in the driving lanes. Lane markings could be hard to see. Moderate blowing and drifting snow and visibility problems that could affect highway speeds could be present.
Completely Covered: Color-coded in pink. This means roads are 100 percent covered with rain, frost, snow, slush or a mixture thereof. The designation will be used when roads are covered with standing water, when snow completely obscures lane markings, or when heavy snow, drifting snow or freezing rain makes driving hazardous.
Travel Not Advised: Roads will be purple. It means stay off unless absolutely necessary. Visibility will be ¼-mile or less, or near-blizzard conditions exist, or driving would be dangerous.
Closed: You’ll see red. Don’t go there.
MnDOT updates 511 between 3 and 6 a.m. and 3 and 6 p.m. weekdays, and at other times as needed, based on reports from plow operators, maintenance officials and law enforcement.
The new terms were decided after MnDOT’s marketing team surveyed stakeholders around the state and looked at how other states describe road conditions. Some states had up to 15 descriptions. MnDOT opted for just five.
About those deer stats
On the topic of road hazards, the Drive reported in last week’s column that the odds of striking a deer while driving in Minnesota have decreased by 10 percent, from 1 in 88 to 1 in 80. Several astute readers were quick to point out that would mean there is a greater chance of having a car-deer crash. To set the record straight, the odds did decrease, from 1 in 80 to 1 in 88, not the other way around. The bottom line is that we need to be on alert for deer. We can all agree on that.