BANGOR, Maine — There isn't snow on the ground in Bangor yet -- but Mainers who have lived the winter cycle year after year know that pretty soon, that will all change.
To prepare for the inevitable snow and ice conditions that are bound to appear in the next few weeks, groups around Bangor are making sure they're ready to keep roadways safe -- and inform people how they can be prepared.
On Wednesday, October 16, the Maine Department of Transportation in Bangor held "WISE College" -- which stands for Winter and Ice Snow Experts -- to train the city's snow fighters. It's a job that requires long hours, a lot of physical work, and mathematical skill.
"It's not an easy job by any stretch -- but we have very dedicated people who do a tremendous job," said Brian Burne, highway maintenance engineer for MDOT.
The shifts can run longer than 24 hours at a time -- especially if a storm hits while people are already out plowing. It's also important for employees to learn exactly when and what amount of material to apply to roadways.
"Getting that level of experience where you can really call, you know, what's the right timing for the salt and how much to use at the right time -- it's really an art," Burne explained.
"It's hard to explain what we actually go through," Laura Theriault of MDOT Crew 405 added. She is in her first full year at the department and attended the training Wednesday.
"We have a hard time keeping people because of the hours...and stuff. It's hard for some people to continue to do it."
Last year, clean-up costs were at their most expensive at $46.5 million. Burne said the average cost of clean-up has gone up in the past few years -- and wet winters don't help pothole conditions in the spring.
Still, Burne said he feels lucky, since he has a full crew this winter. But he added they can't do it all, so drivers should be working in advance to make sure their commutes go smoothly.
"The biggest thing that people can do is plan ahead," Burne said.
Lee Maynard at Town Fair Tire agrees. He's a salesman and said he's already seen people coming in this year to get their snow tires. They started selling them on October 1 -- and Maynard said the worst snow tire has about 25 percent better traction than the best all-season tire on the market.
"They say every (winter), it's going to be the worst -- and it really always is," Maynard expressed.
Above all, Burne said the most important thing drivers can do is to be "properly prepared" -- because soon enough, Bangor is likely to see the snow we all know is coming.