Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. stands with the salt trucks and snow plows poised for the first snowflake to appear.
He lists the resources in the county's winter-weather arsenal: 309 plows and trucks, 40,000 tons of salt, 461 drivers and dispatchers. With the county's Highways Bureau chief at his side, Smith reassures residents that they'll tackle the 2,624 miles of county roads as soon as there's something to shovel.
Joe Taxpayer might never attend a County Council session or listen to Smith's State of the County speeches. But when plowing is the topic, the county executive says there's always an audience.
"We want to make certain everyone knows that Baltimore County is ready to roll," Smith said Friday at a county salt barn on Bosley Avenue. "Weather is big. It's important to everyone."
Smith's annual snow-readiness address is not long or groundbreaking. But, he said, "This is called the bread and butter of government service."
Last year, the county had to deal with the massive cleanup after Tropical Storm Isabel flooded areas of eastern Baltimore County. That effort came seven months after public works crews tackled a record-setting snowfall. And, lest the executive forget, Tim Burgess, Highways Bureau chief, reminded him that the 17-year cicadas arrived last spring.
"Mother Nature has not been kind," Smith said.
By this time last year, the county had already cleaned up after two storms, said Edward C. Adams Jr., county director of public works.
But whether it's today or next month, snow is a near-certainty, Smith said.
He asked county residents to park their cars off the street, if possible, and to clear storm drains and around fire hydrants, if they're able. "It really is a cooperative effort between the county and the citizens we serve," Smith said.
Burgess also asked for patience. Salting the county's roads takes four to six hours. Plowing a 6-inch layer of snow can take 18 to 24 hours. There are no special lists or preferred customers, Burgess said. Main arteries are cleared first, then subdivisions.
Smith said he would be out at 5:30 a.m. with Burgess if there was snow to contend with this morning. "We make certain things are running smoothly and look for trouble spots," Smith said.
The county has set aside $2 million for snow removal and salting roads, although Burgess was quick to point out, "We're not going to stop plowing snow because we ran out of money."
The county inspected its fleet of plows and salt trucks in October and has 40,000 gallons of liquid magnesium, which helps melt snow and ice at low temperatures, Burgess said. "We've got everything shipshape - ready to go."