Gritters Deployed for First Major Salt Spreading

Living Magazines National Highways gritter
  • A number of Met Office National Severe Weather Warnings have been issued as an arctic maritime airmass brings cold weather to the UK with a risk of ice, wintry showers and snow.
  • This winter around 530 gritter vehicles will operate on our network of motorways and A-roads, working from 128 depots.
  • Leading-edge technology, in-depth forecasting, and work with partners such as the Met Office means we know precisely where and when to treat roads with salt.
  • Motorists urged to give gritting teams space to do their job while preparing for driving in poor weather conditions.

Gritters are out this week for the first significant operation of this autumn and winter season on motorways and major A-roads as temperatures dip across the country.

National Highways, which operates England’s 4,500-mile strategic road network, is urging drivers to take care during the poor weather while also giving gritting teams space to operate.

The government-owned company switched over to autumn and winter operations on 1 October, readying teams at 128 depots across the country to keep the country’s busiest roads open in the face of deteriorating weather.

This includes monitoring Met Office weather forecasts along with regular road assessments from meteorological experts DTN and MetDesk.

With milder weather in October and November, minimal action was needed on our roads network with road surface temperatures staying above +1 degrees C – until now.

That has changed, with National Highways’ comprehensive forecasting services indicating road surfaces are at risk of developing ice in certain regions – triggering the need for gritter drivers in numerous areas to conduct their first salt spreading runs of the season.

A number of Met Office National Severe Weather Warnings have been issued as an arctic maritime airmass brings cold weather to the UK with a risk of ice, wintry showers and snow. In England there are yellow weather warnings for ice in North Cornwall and North Devon as well as along the East coast and northern England. Further severe weather warnings could be issued as we head through the week.

Essential advice for motorists this winter season

  • Stick to the main roads where you can and only travel if necessary.
  • Slow down – it can take 10 times longer to stop in icy conditions.
  • Use a high gear – this will help avoid wheel spin.
  • Accelerate gently, using low revs. You may need to take off in second gear to avoid skidding.
  • You may need up to 10 times the normal gap between your car and the car in front.
  • Try not to brake suddenly – it may lock up your wheels and you could skid further.
  • Be extra cautious at road junctions where road markings may not be visible.
  • Look out for gritters spreading salt or using snow ploughs, and only overtake if it’s safe to do so.

Darren Clark, Severe Weather Resilience Manager at National Highways, said: ‘We manage a huge roads network nationwide – with over 4,500 miles of motorways and A-roads.

‘Not all roads will need treating on any given day. Gritters may need to go out in some regions if road temperatures fall below +1 degrees C, and if there is a risk of ice forming, but not in other areas if conditions are not as cold.

‘National Highways is committed to treating every road which needs to be treated – whenever it is needed. We are armed with the latest technology, forecasting intelligence and years of experience to help us make informed decisions about where and when we need to spread salt to help keep road users safe in even the most adverse weather conditions.’

National Highways recently completed the assembly of its new £44m two-year investment in a fleet of 252 Volvo gritter vehicles, some of which carried out winter operations last year, and all of which will be involved in salt spreading this season. The investment now means the organisation has around 530 gritter vehicles available this winter. The state-of-the-art gritters were showcased on 24 October coinciding with a new salt depot opening at Malton. A total of 443 of these vehicles are Volvo gritters.

Vehicles in the winter gritting fleet can carry up to around 12,000 kg of salt, or 8,400 kg of salt and 3,600 litres of brine at any one time. The Volvo gritting vehicles can spread up to 50mph, encouraging traffic to keep moving more effectively on the roads even when they are being treated. When not treating they can travel up to 56mph.

However, National Highways is keen for motorists to continue to give gritter vehicles the time and space they need to do their jobs – to keep us all safe when we are travelling on its motorways and A-roads.

Darren said: ‘I was out with a salting team one year in Strensham. I witnessed some motorists driving carelessly to try to avoid our vehicle – but in turn putting them, their passengers, us and other road users at risk.

‘As our gritting teams go out more and more to spread salt on the roads this coming autumn and winter season, our message is simple to all road users: Please be patient and give us the time and space to do what we need to do to keep you safe.

‘If you are going to pass us, please do so courteously, pass us safely and legally, or even better, if you are able to stay back, you will actually help the salt on the road activate even more quickly by crushing and breaking it into the road surface which benefits everyone.

‘It’s worth remembering too, we are not gritting all the time. Some of our fleet may come off at particular junctions or return to depots while other vehicles take over, lowering any inconvenience to motorists. We are once again totally committed to working around the clock on these seasonal operations to keep all road users safe and thank everyone in advance for their patience and understanding this autumn and winter season.’

Ready for autumn and winter seasons

Autumn and winter can bring more adverse and severe weather conditions which can affect motorists and these include fog, heavy rain, high winds and gales and ice and snow.

Along with more than 250 weather stations, that provide real-time information about localised road conditions, National Highways works with independent meteorological experts DTN and Metdesk which run from 1 October to 30 April and complement the national Met Office weather forecast, providing a level of granularity and precision about changing road surface temperatures across our road network. This gives National Highways the detailed knowledge to determine where and when to salt roads so they remain open and safe for people to use.

All of the information gathered helps National Highways to inform road users about current road conditions whatever the weather. They also share information through channels including their website, third party travel providers including sat nav companies and local radio stations.

Abigail Oakes, Senior Account Manager at the Met Office, said: ‘We are delighted to continue our close working relationship with National Highways this autumn and winter season.

‘Our staff, be that meteorologists embedded alongside the National Highways team in Birmingham during the autumn and winter, or Met Office staff working from Exeter to deliver and support throughout the year, are proud to continue this partnership, which allows for the best possible support for road users during periods of severe weather.’

National Highways has invested £44m over two years replacing 252 gritters. It now has around 530 gritting vehicles which can be out on our roads in sub-zero temperatures helping to maintain the network and enhance its service to customers. This equates to one gritter for every eight miles of road. The 530 gritters includes 443 Volvo Romaquip gritting vehicles – all of which have been introduced through the replacement programme that started in 2018.

These vehicles are based at 128 depots nationwide with a stockpile of around 280,000 tonnes of salt for the autumn and winter season. There are two new depots in this total – one at Malton, on the A64 and one at Newport on the A63, both in Yorkshire.

Explore more online

National Highways has lots of advice on its website around travelling in severe weather conditions, including high winds and gales, fog, rain and snow and ice. Visit the travelling in severe weather web page.

Weather forecasts and information can be found on the Met Office website.

Travel information can be found by visiting National Highways’ Travel updates page, and by following @highwaysseast on Twitter or calling the National Highways Customer Contact Centre on 0300 123 5000.