Drive safely: Hawkins offers tips


Virgil Hawkins is something of a rarity when it comes to being a department head for Wright County. When winter storms hit and people are cautioned to stay off the roads, that is when his employees go to work.
Hawkins, the Wright County highway engineer, oversees 511 miles of roads and is in charge of 22 snowplow drivers. When winter storms arrive, they typically work a 12-hour shift during and after storms and after getting a little sleep, they’re at it again until all the roads are clear.
When the first significant winter storm hit Dec. 4 – the first of 15 to 20 snowfall events expected during the winter season – it caught many drivers unaware. 
Numerous accidents and spinouts were reported throughout the next few days. Hawkins said winter storms may seem similar, but they are as unique as the snowflakes they dump on the ground and the roads.
 “There are a lot of factors that go into it and no two storms are identical,” Hawkins said. “It depends on what type of storm you have, based on air temperature, road temperature and the duration of the storm. There are a lot of similarities with some storms, but they’re each unique and require different approaches to clearing roads.”
The Dec. 4-5 storm was troubling in a couple of respects. It was a mixed precipitation storm and, as the opening storm of the winter season, many drivers weren’t prepared for how much the conditions can impact driving.
More information appears in this week's Messenger.