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Simulated snowplowing keeps Lower 48 road crews sharp

Alaska Dispatch

Locales unaccustomed to dealing with snowfall can find that just a few inches of the slippery substance can wreak havoc on city roadways and transportation, and shut down urban centers while governments scramble to clear the roads.

So from Dallas, Texas, to Detroit Lakes, Minn., to Pheonix, Ariz., cities are turning to snowplow simulators as a way to train road crews, according to The Associated Press.

In Dallas, a locale that gets only 3 inches of snow a year, the local government is hard-pressed to justify big budgets for winter weather preparation. Yet disaster can be only a few inches of snow or freezing rain away.

In 2011 for instance, when 5 inches of snow fell a week before Dallas hosted the Super Bowl, thousands of football fans were left stranded, and the toll authority ended up using construction road graders -- the go-to plow choice for major Alaska roads -- to clear the way.

“The Super Bowl that everybody talks about really opened our eyes,” Hemphill said. “We had to put another tool in our toolbox.” Eric Hemphill, maintenance director for the North Texas Toll Authority, told The AP.

That tool consists of three video screens, a steering wheel and a switch for the plow blade. Drivers trace the curves of a virtual road designed with trickery in mind. Imaginary deer ran out, and if drivers can't avoid them, the word “COLLISION” appears in red letters.

The simulator's manufacturer, L-3 DPA, says its gizmo provides “tactical vehicle-like training” for operators. Scenarios include black ice, white-out conditions, animals or children sprinting in front of the vehicle, and blown-out tires.

L-3 says that its simulators are used in many states across the country, from Oregon to Maine and Maryland.

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