Snow and Ice - FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

There are many reasons for them to be traveling with the plow up. For example:

  • The plow could be traveling back to the shop for repairs.
  • There may not be enough snow on the roadway to plow.
  • The driver may be waiting for the salt to melt the snow/ice enough to be plowed.

The liquid you see being sprayed on the roadway is a salt brine anti-icing agent. It is a solution of whey, salt and molasses. The purpose of the molasses is to help it adhere to the road surface. There will be some temporary staining from the molasses, which will wash away with the melting snow.

Sand and/or salt is used in combination with plowing to provide reasonable driving surfaces in icy conditions. Spot sanding will be done at specific locations on primary and secondary routes, as requested, and as time permits.

Plowing begins as soon as snow begins to accumulate on the roadway surface. Learn more on our Snow and Ice page.

Lifeline (primary) streets get plowed first to allow citizens access to services and to help provide access for fire, police and emergency services. Hills, curves, bridges and intersections on these routes receive treatment first. When lifeline routes are treated and safe for travel, snow plows then move to the secondary routes. Learn more on our Snow and Ice page.

A complete list of all the streets we plow is available on our Snow and Ice page.

We plow downtown when we expect to receive 6" or more of snow with an extended forecast for snow and/or freezing conditions. Downtown streets are a challenge, due to the parked cars and lack of space for us to push the snow out of the street.  For light snow, the downtown traffic volumes usually melt the snow on the main east-west streets. For major snow events, where the snow and/or ice is expected to be deep and last for several days, we may use excavation equipment to remove the snow from the streets and place it on City-owned parking lots.

Yes. However, please be aware of the following:

  • Try to not damage any reflective buttons that may be on the road.
  • The City will NOT accept any responsibility for any damage or injury that may occur.
  • In severe snow storms like the one we experienced in December 2009, even our large snow plows with experienced drivers had problems slipping, sliding and getting stuck. Our small trucks often got stuck and could not access many neighborhood areas. Citizens should use extreme caution when attempting to plow residential streets.

Unfortunately, the City does not have the available resources to clear sidewalks. And, as outlined in Olympia Municipal Code 12.36.060, sidewalk maintenance, including snow removal, is the responsiblity of the adjacent property owner.

Our goal is to clear the roadway for safe travel. Unfortunately, berming is an inconvenient result of plowing. Adjacent property owners are responsible for clearing the berm to gain access to the roadway. We do not have the available resources to provide this service, and this is one way you can help.

Residents are encouraged to use alternate modes, such as public transportation, if roads are icy. Visit Intercity Transit's website for route and schedule information.

  • On snow and ice, take it slow and drive for the conditions.
  • Turn on your headlights so that other drivers see you.
  • Don't use your cruise control - focus on driving.
  • Don't follow too closely - leave extra room between your vehicle and the one in front of you.
  • Slow down when approaching intersections, off-ramps, bridges or shaded areas.
  • If you're behind a snow plow, stay back at least 15 car lengths until you're sure it's safe to pass or the plow pulls off the road. A snowplow driver has a limited field of vision.
  • Be sure you have plenty of fuel and don't wait to check your tires, battery, belts, hoses, radiator, lights, brakes, heater/defroster or wipers.

  • Be sure to dress for the weather and be sure you have a hat and gloves.
  • Make up a cold weather kit with a flash light, ice scraper or snow brush, jumper cables, a cellphone charger, tire chains and flares.
  • A first aid kit is always a good idea as are water and snacks.


Public Works Dispatch
360.753.8588, Option 0