Was it a colder or milder than average winter in Oxfordshire?
Which council vehicles covered nearly 50,000 miles over the space of five months and travelled a distance the equivalent of Oxford to Iceland on every day that they hit the county’s roads?
Oxfordshire County Council’s gritters are always a good indication of what kind of winter we’ve had and the statistics for the 2022/3 winter tell their own story! The council sends them out to make roads as safe as possible when the forecast is due to dip below freezing.
From November through to mid- March the gritters went out on 40 occasions (plus a further three part-runs in north Oxfordshire only). Their busiest times were in the big cold spell from 5 December to 17 December when they went out on 13 consecutive days. Then they had to hit the roads on 12 out of 13 days from 16 January to 27 January.
The gritters covered 48,616 miles/78240 kilometres – almost twice around the world! They spread the grand total of 9,360 tonnes of rock salt to help keep main roads in a safe condition in the cold weather. The council’s gritters cover all A-roads, B-roads and some C-roads. National Highways treat the A34, A43 and M40 in cold weather.
How does 2022/3 compare with previous years?
- The most active recent year for the gritters was 2020/21 when they had to go out on more than 50 occasions compared to this winter’s 40.
- In the previous winter (2021/22) they went out on 38 occasions so this year was a slight rise. That 2021/22 total was similar to 2018/19 when they went out 39 times.
- The mildest recent year was 2019/20 when they only had to go out on 31 occasions.
- The snowploughs have not had to be fitted to the gritters at all since the snowy winter of 2018/19 when this had to happen on five separate occasions.
A variable winter
Paul Wilson is the person in the highways team who manages the winter gritting operation. He said: “It was a very variable winter with the gritters going out in big blocks when high pressure became established leaving us with dry but often very cold weather. Our coldest recorded night was 14 December when our road surface temperatures dropped to minus 7.9 degrees at one of our weather stations. In between times we had some very rainy spells that saw the river levels rise to quite high levels but meant that the gritters and the drivers were able to rest.
“Our gritter drivers go out at all hours depending on the most effective time of day for them to hit the roads. That can mean the drivers are out in the middle of the night sometimes more than once and often in very difficult conditions. They’re skilled drivers with high levels of concentration who aim to have the roads as safe as they can make them by the time the rush hours arrive.
“One thing we didn’t have to do this year was fit snowploughs to the front of gritters. When it snows heavily we’ll do that to clear deep snow from the roads. This year we had only one real day of significant snow on 8 March but it never reached a depth at which snowploughs would have been needed and the gritters were doing the job.
“All in all we had a little bit of everything this winter. We’re all glad it’s Spring now but we’re already in the early stages of planning for the 2023/4 winter – whatever that might have in store.”
You can read more about the winter operation on our dedicated page.