Tips: Public Communications During Severe Winter Weather Events

Severe Winter Weather

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Big tractor with shovel remove thes snow from a sidewalk.


During severe winter weather events, the public has an undying need for information — when will their roads be plowed, will schools shut down, is more snow expected? Providing them with constant updates is essential to set clear expectations about your municipal snow removal agency’s capabilities during a given storm.

Use these tips to manage expectations among constituents and to effectively communicate your locality’s snow removal status.

Make an effort to accommodate the media when local snow removal agencies are too busy.

  • Local media requests can inundate the municipal agency responsible for snow removal, and in some cases hinder operations. It’s important for the snow removal agency’s director to give at least one or two interviews to demonstrate progress, but other local leaders and departments can relieve the burden by taking some of the interview requests.
  • Be sure to have a briefing from the PIO or the snow removal agency before any interview.

Be prepared to answer questions about school closings.

  • If schools are open, local media will likely ask why road conditions aren’t better; if schools are closed, expect inquiries as to when roads will be clear enough for schools to reopen.

If the media asks, don’t commit to a timeline for when roads will be cleared.

  • Local media will likely ask specifically when roads will be cleared; the interviewee should give themself leeway and provide an estimated range, or not commit to a timeline at all. You never know what can happen, so it’s important not to set deadlines your municipality can’t meet.

Have an idea of what the storm will cost.

  • Avoid speculating on cost while the event is underway, but be knowledgeable of your snow removal agency’s budget for snow removal and where they are year-to-date if the question does come up.
  • If asked to speculate on storm costs, give a general answer, such as the agency will be over or under budget.

Use social media for constant updates on snow removal status.

  • Be honest about snow removal estimations and keep the community updated to manage expectations. It’s better to send a message out at the start saying, “Roads won’t be cleared in 24 hours,” than to set false expectations.
  • Tweets and Facebook posts are effective ways to send out updates — or to re-post and share your snow removal agency’s posts — on cleared roads, where your snow plows are headed next and other status information.

Consider using an online snow form for residents to report issues. 

  • An online form will decrease the number of calls to your agency, and also provide useful information to inform resource deployment.
  • Don’t make the form available to residents until after plows have gone through their area; if not, residents submit complaints — oftentimes about unplowed roads — before you have a chance to get to their section.

Have a plan for communicating road closures and travel advisories.

  • Use multiple methods of communication, like message boards placed along road, local media and radio, to send out information on road closures and travel advisories.
  • When heavy snow is predicted, issue road closures as soon as possible.

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