Winter services

Winter services

The county council's aim is to make the roads in Northumberland as safe as is practical and ensure you can travel with a minimum of delay and disruption during severe winter weather.

Winter services

Find out about the action we take to make the roads in Northumberland as safe as possible and minimise delays and disruption during severe winter weather.

 Get a guided tour around one of our state-of-the art new gritters
 

Request gritting support
During periods of severe weather, updates on road conditions, gritting and snow ploughing can be found on the alerts page or through facebook.com/nccalerts or Twitter:@northumberlands.
When do we grit?
We grit the roads when temperatures are expected to fall to zero or below. Rock salt is spread to lower the freezing point of the surface and it takes about three hours to cover Northumberland. We aim to grit all the routine roads by 8am each day, although gritting becomes less effective the further the temperature drops.

We use specialised weather reports from the Met Office, insight from our road condition sensors, which monitor road temperature, and a wealth of local knowledge to decide on the right time to grit.

Please note: in extreme conditions, like freezing rain, no treatment will prevent ice from forming, although these kinds of conditions are very rare and usually short-lived.
Where do we grit?
We routinely grit a network of 29 main routes to combat overnight frost and ice. We also grit busy footpaths, car parks and shopping areas during persistent icy weather conditions.

Our route is planned so treated roads can be reached within:
  • no more than five miles for rural residents
  • no more than one mile for urban residents 
Principal bus routes and distributor roads with steep approaches to main road junctions are also treated as a priority.

Second priority roads will be gritted when widespread ice is expected to continue through the day and in light snow falls. These roads include:
  • access roads to communities where there are no alternative gritted roads
  • important bus routes
  • urban distributor roads
Not all roads are routinely gritted, and local extreme weather conditions may mean parts of the road network are not treated as normal. Despite our best efforts, even on gritted roads, ice may reform.

You can view our precautionary gritting routes here or download our ‘Highways in Winter’ leaflet for more information.

We don’t plough or grit the A1 and A19. Highways England is responsible for those roads – call 0300 1235000 or email info@highwaysengland.co.uk 
Grit bins
Grit bins are available on selected steep hills, verges, sharp bends and near steps, particularly where routine gritting does not happen.

We supply 1,600 bins for the public to use, which we restock as often as possible during the winter. You can use the grit provided to clear snow and ice from pavements around your home, making paths safer and easier to use. Grit provided should not be used for treating private property.
Snow clearance on roads
When snow falls in excess of 50mm, with possible drifting, snowploughs attached to gritters will be used. Snowblowers and other specialist machines are also sometimes used.

In severe snow conditions it’s not possible to clear all the roads at once, so we prioritise roads in the following order:
  1. principal roads - cleared to a minimum two-lane width
  2. roads into towns and villages - at least one road into each to allow for access to the cleared major roads
  3. major town centres
Snow clearance on other roads will only take place when the higher priority roads have been cleared, which may take several days.
Snow clearance on footpaths
As resources become available, we also clear the most used footpaths. We have created a footpath network of four categories, based on their usage. Category one footpaths will be cleared first and you can see the various networks on the maps below:
Extra support and information
Snow squads
A snow squad is a group of community volunteers who help clear snow and ice from public footpaths. To find out more, download our leaflet on forming your own squad. You should also follow the government’s guidelines on clearing snow safely if you want to clear snow yourself.
 
Winter services
View our winter services policy and find out about resources we have available to tackle severe winter weather.
 
Our resources
We plan for extreme weather and are well equipped to deal with most weather conditions. Currently we have:
  • 29 serviced multi-purpose gritting vehicles with snow plough attachments
  • four reserve vehicles
  • five state-of-the-art gully tankers, positioned throughout the county to deal with potential flooding caused by rapid snow melt
  • two fitters on 24-hour emergency standby to deal with emergency repairs
  • 36,000 tonnes of rock salt in place at 11 depots across the county from the beginning of October – additional salt is ordered if necessary
  • more than 1,600 salt bins in areas which are steep, have steps or have difficult junctions
  • more than 200 grit heaps in rural areas
When dealing with heavy snowfall, additional support is also provided by farmers or heavy plant contractors in some of the more rural areas.

Driving in winter

Here you will find information about how to keep safe on the roads in winter.

Before you set off
In severe and wintry weather it's even more important to plan your journey.

The Highways Agency provides up-to-the-minute traffic reports for its network of 4,300 miles of motorways and major A roads across England.

Visit the Met Office website to see:
  • latest traffic reports
  • maps showing how the traffic is flowing on England's motorways and major A roads
  • a motorway flow diagram
  • views from CCTV cameras
  • average speeds
  • displays on motorway message signs
If you are away from your computer or have already set off, there are still lots of ways to get Highways Agency live traffic information.

Updates on the move
Overhead message signs will flash up important travel messages, including warning you of delays and advising of alternative routes. Automatic signs will tell you how long it will take traffic to reach certain destinations.

There is a free app for your iPhone or you can visit the Met Office to access a mobile-friendly version. This will allow you to select live updates by road, region or motorway.

Remember: never stop on the hard shoulder to do this and never use your mobile phone while driving.

Follow the Highways Agency Twitter channels, @winterhighways and @HA_Christmas over the festive period. They’ll help you prepare for your winter journey with reminders and traffic updates.

Check weather updates
Take weather conditions into account when planning your route, by visiting the Met Office website or listening to local radio broadcasts.

Timing
Always allow extra time in severe weather. Listen to warnings or advice and consider whether your journey is essential.

Check your planned route at the Highways England website, where you can find up-to-date traffic information.
Be prepared for driving in winter
Check your vehicle is in good running order before you set out and consider regular servicing to help minimise the risk.

POWDERY checklist for safe winter driving
Use this POWDERY checklist as a good reminder:
  • Petrol (or diesel): have you got enough? Do you know where to fill up?
  • Oil: check levels once a month
  • Water: check radiator and screenwash once a month
  • Damage: check wipers, lights etc. for signs of wear and tear or damage
  • Electrics: check lights, indicators and controls are working properly
  • Rubber tyres: are they well inflated, legal, with good tread and free from damage?
  • Yourself: are you fit to drive? Have you slept well? Are you taking any medication(s) that could make it unsafe for you to drive?
If you are planning to travel with pets, ensure animals are safe and secure and will not be a distraction to people travelling in your vehicle. Carry an emergency kit
Gather together the following items and pack them in your vehicle at the start of the winter season:
  • ice scraper and de-icer
  • torch and spare batteries - or a wind-up torch
  • warm clothes and blankets - for you and all passengers
  • boots
  • first aid kit
  • jump leads
  • shovel
  • road atlas
  • sunglasses
Tyre safety in winter
Find out how you can make your tyres safe in poor conditions.

How to keep your tyres safe in winter
Cold temperatures, damp roads, snow and ice all reduce a tyre's ability to grip the road properly, leading to longer stopping distances and a higher risk of accident.

The safest option is to fit winter weather tyres, which are specifically designed to provide extra grip and improved levels of safety at temperatures lower than 7°C.

Tread depth should be checked to ensure it is well above the legal minimum of 1.6m. TyreSafe has developed the 20p test for a simple and quick way to test your tyres' tread depth.

Tyre pressures should be checked every two weeks and before a long journey. Pressures should be checked when the tyres have travelled less than two miles against the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended levels.

When checking tyre pressure, give the rest of the tyre a thorough visual inspection for signs of damage. Look for any cuts, cracks, bulges or embedded objects. If you are in any doubt, speak to a professional.