Calling the shots on weather not always easy

Snow plows were standing by Monday as a variety of weather moved in.
Published: .
Updated: .

Steve Pruitt's office at the Department of Works garage on West Street has a window, which makes it easy to see what the weather's doing.

But Pruitt's eyes are usually focused on six computer screens. Each gives him a different take on current conditions as well as what's headed this way.

Pruitt is the guy who calls the shots for the city on how to respond to a winter storm (as well as heavy rains and flooding).

"Between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m., I'm pretty much the one that says when we drop salt and when we stop dropping and when we go to the just plow mode," Pruitt said.

Late Monday morning, Pruitt pointed to a radar on one of the screens.

"The forecast is changing," he said. "If you look at that top screen, all that pink? That's freezing drizzle."

Besides relying on all sorts of computer models, Pruitt also uses cameras to keep track of weather, many from Indianapolis.

He called up a shot from the University of Illinois, which showed blowing snow.

"We know by radar that's coming our way," he said, "so that gives us a better chance of getting out and getting material down when we need to."

Like most of his colleagues, Pruitt has been worked numerous 12-hour shifts because of the repeated winter storms, but he noted, "this is the hardest one we've had all year."

Would Indianapolis be hit with freezing rain, sleet or snow? Each requires a different plan of attack.

"This is the hard part," Pruitt said, "because when does it change over and how long is that changeover?"

If you salt the roads and it rains, you wash away the salt, but if you get snow and haven't pre-treated the roads, it makes for slicker conditions.

Asked if it was stressful, Pruitt said, "Sometimes it is. I'm not going to lie, because we all want to know when it will have to pay close attention on what to get out and clean it up."