Around the Northern Virginia offices of the Virginia Department of Transportation, Pete N. Todd is known as "the snowman."

Todd is one of the 1,000 anonymous faces behind the Transportation Department's $5.5 million effort to clear snow from 10,329 miles of roads in Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun and Prince William counties.

Every winter for the last 20 years, Todd has plowed snow or supervised snow removal along the Shirley Highway and in a wide area of Annandale, Mount Vernon, Springfield and Arlington.

"I really get up about it," said Todd, 49, who grew up in Northern Virginia and has a keen knowledge of the area's streets. "No one moves unless we move -- fire trucks, commuters, no one."

Every year at this time, this snow army prepares for 12-hour shifts, nights away from home and outdoor work in cold temperatures, driving on snowy and icy streets. The workers in this army put up with a lot of abuse from drivers and residents, and fight a constant public relations battle in a region that panics every time snow is forecast.

"People think we're just a bunch of good old boys who say, 'If we like you, we'll plow your street,' " Todd said. "Snow removal is much more involved than people think. No two snowstorms are the same."

This year, people like Todd will be under extra pressure.

Because of budget cuts, the state will spend $2.2 million less this year than last winter on snow removal. If more snow falls than usual, the state will dip into its budget for springtime pothole repair and lawn mowing to clear snow.

State officials warn that snow on lightly traveled roads probably will not be removed as quickly as in the past.

To save money, the state will trim its use of private workers and equipment, relying more on the department's own people and plows. Hiring outside help has been common for years throughout the region to supplement state and local snow-removal operations.

Todd said he doesn't think the cuts will be that severe, noting that some of the trucks used this year will carry larger spreaders that will enable them to scatter sand and chemicals over a wider area than the department's regular fleet of spreaders.

Much of the department's success in keeping within the budget this year, Todd said, will depend on temperatures during snowy and icy weather.

"The temperature is the key factor in all of this," said Todd, who works out of the department's Newington maintenance yard off Interstate 95.

Road salt usually works best in temperatures above 20 degrees. When temperatures fall below that, a more expensive and damaging chemical is used and it often doesn't make much difference, particularly if the snow and ice are compacted.

In other words, Todd said, if the temperature is 32 degrees, a truck only needs to make a single trip to spread 200 pounds over each mile to melt the snow.

At 10 degrees, it takes 550 pounds of salt and sand, which means the truck must make several more trips and use more than twice the materials.

The advances in equipment and materials is one of several changes in snow removal since Todd began 20 years ago.

Back then, the plowing equipment was powered by rear engines, which is a little like trying to run a lawn mower in cold weather. Breakdowns were frequent, and the plows didn't have much power.

Now, most of the equipment runs on the truck's hydraulic system, which has more power and allows the plow blade to be adjusted from inside the cab instead of being set manually by the driver.

Another change in snow removal is psychological. Since the back-to-back storms of January 1987, when 21 inches fell over 10 days, the region's officials have gotten together to coordinate such things as snow removal and releasing employees.

"I can remember a day when Virginia crews didn't cross the state line," Todd said, referring to the policy change that allows crews from Virginia and Maryland to cross state boundaries to clear snow on the approaches to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge connecting Alexandria and Prince George's County.

One thing that hasn't changed, Todd said, is drivers' habits in snow. Many speed, cut in front of snow plows, drive on emergency shoulders and generally do not keep their vehicles prepared for winter, he said.

"I don't want to offend people, but there is an aggressive style of driving in the metropolitan area," Todd said.

Todd's hot tips: Give the snow trucks room to work. Pick up some chains. Check the battery. Get snow tires, if necessary. Remove all the snow from your vehicle. Above all, be patient.

When winter is over, Todd frequently heads for Annapolis, where he has a sailboat -- "for my sanity. There's no asphalt in the bay."


25,000 tons of sand.

27,000 tons of salt (sodium chloride).

606 tons of calcium chloride.

474 three-ton dump trucks with spreaders or plows.

30 graders.

96 pickup trucks.

741 state employees and 334 hired workers on call.


How the Virginia Department of Transportation is preparing for snow removal in Fairfax and Arlington counties: LANE MILES TO PLOW:

616 interstate lane miles.

827 primary lane miles.

5,022 secondary lane miles in Fairfax; Arlington County maintains its own secondary roads. EMPLOYEES ASSIGNED TO SNOW REMOVAL:

510 department employees.

271 hired operators. AVAILABLE EQUIPMENT:

109 state trucks and 242 hired trucks with spreaders, plows, or both.

6 state graders and 16 hired graders.

11 state loaders and 39 hired loaders.

1 state snow blower.

60 state pickup trucks and 13 hired pickup trucks. MATERIALS ON HAND:

7,570 tons of sand/abrasives.

18,155 tons of salt.

27 tons of calcium chloride. WHERE TO CALL:

Local road conditions, 359-1271.

Statewide road conditions, 1-800-367-ROAD.