Snow Operations

The Winter Operations Program is designed to deal with various weather conditions and strives to minimize winter's adverse impact on residents, businesses, and visitors.


The Department of Public Works (DPW) maintains approximately 253 miles of streets, many with sidewalks. During the winter months, the department is responsible for plowing and removing snow as well as minimizing and treating icy conditions. The department is also responsible for clearing some sidewalks, City owned parking lots and driveways at schools and other public buildings. The department's goal is to provide safe, practical access to homes, business, public buildings and medical facilities during winter storms.

Weather and local road conditions are constantly monitored during the winter months. Forecasts are followed closely and are an important tool, particularly when tracking large storms. Two weather forecasting services are utilized, both providing daily forecasts as well as updates as required by email and cell phone for unpredicted changes in weather conditions. Local radio, television and website forecasts are also monitored. In addition to the DPW, police and other city departments constantly monitor road conditions.

When a major snow event is predicted, the City will declare a snow emergency parking ban. The decision as to whether a storm is a "major snow event" involves a consideration of such elements as the size of the predicted storm, amount of snow already on the ground, time of day, day of the week etc. The parking ban will prohibit parking on City streets and in City lots in order to allow plow crews to perform their jobs quickly and efficiently. Individuals who impede the snow removal operations during a snow emergency are subject to ticketing and towing. Even when snow emergencies/parking bans are lifted, cars are not to obstruct roadways.

When a Storm Starts

DPW crews are on call and equipment can be mobilized quickly to treat an icy section of road or address dangerous conditions. No two storms are identical and weather conditions can vary significantly during the winter months. Different conditions require different tactics and circumstances will dictate the appropriate strategy.

During normal business hours, DPW staff will monitor the weather and dispatch trucks and equipment as required. For nighttime and weekend storms, the DPW Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner, General Foreman and Watchman along with police personnel monitor road conditions. They will notify crews should snow or icing develop. These individuals will respond with the appropriate number of trucks and equipment concentrating on main roads. This will ordinarily involve treating roads to keep snow and ice from forming and packing on the road surface.

Plowing operations begin as soon as needed. Major routes and arteries are the first priority followed by secondary roads and the smaller streets. The primary objective of winter operations is to keep roads safe and passable and to prevent unmanageable accumulations in long duration storms.

As the Storm Continues

If the snow accumulates, DPW efforts will shift more fully towards plowing. By this time, additional drivers and snow plow contractors will have been called in to begin working their assigned plow routes. A combination of apparatus is used including plow trucks, front-end loaders, backhoes and sidewalk equipment. All 31 DPW plow trucks, except 5, are equipped to spread salt. Resources are assigned based on factors such as the lane miles and the type of road, i.e. main road, residential area and other considerations. Additionally, Lowell has approximately 80 cul-de-sacs and over 254 dead end streets which are plowed by smaller 1-ton trucks. These are typically the last to be cleared, usually due to blocked access by cars. The DPW will make all attempts to deploy as many resources as possible to these streets.

At this point, the goal is to keep the travel lanes open, minimize accumulation, and maintain passable conditions on the main roads. As the storm diminishes, drivers will go back over all routes to clean up and widen the roadways and intersections. Salt and a brine solution will be applied to treat road surfaces as required. It may take 3 to 5 hours to complete a typical plow route.

Snow and ice operations are conducted on a 24-hour a day, 7 day a week schedule. The DPW aims to keep clear all main routes and feeder roads and maintain a clear driving track on either side of the centerline on secondary streets within 6 hours of the end of snowfall. Residential side streets will be cleared within 8 hours of the end of snowfall. Cleanup operations after the end of the storm may continue for up to 24 hours or longer.

Driveways are always an issue. DPW crews are sensitive to this problem; however there is no practical way to plow snow without affecting driveways. The drivers do their best to minimize filling in or blocking driveways.

What Can I Do to Help?

The City of Lowell is dependent on the cooperation of all to have a successful snow and ice control operation. Moving snow into public ways, such as streets, is prohibited by City ordinance and is subject to fines for non-compliance. Cars parked in roadways during snow removal operations can impede removal progress and is prohibited by City ordinance. Residents are encouraged to park their vehicles off-street during these events so Public Works can complete the task more efficiently and with better results.

After the Winter Storm

  • Keep roads clear even after the snow emergency parking ban is lifted to allow plowing operations to proceed smoothly.
  • Check in with your neighbors, especially those that may need assistance.
  • Help dig out fire hydrants and storm drains in your neighborhood.
  • If you live on a corner, clear a path from the sidewalk to the street. If not precisely on the corner, as close to the corner as you can get.
  • Avoid parking too close to corners, allowing Public Safety vehicles and plows to maneuver safely.
  • Be aware of children playing in the streets, particularly climbing on or running out from behind large snowdrifts. Parents should remind their children to be aware of plowing operations and traffic.
  • Clear exhaust vents from Direct Vent Gas Furnace Systems to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Never run an automobile until exhaust pipe has been cleared of snow.
  • Make sure backup generators are well ventilated.
  • Take your time shoveling. Avoid overexertion.
  • Use care around downed power lines. Assume a down wire is a live wire.