Snow Emergency

Snow & Ice Control Policy


The City of Duluth’s Snow and Ice Control policy provides for the planned and orderly control of snow/ice on City-maintained streets and alleys during periods of inclement weather. Operations are primarily performed and coordinated by the Street Maintenance Division. A planned, coordinated approach is essential to ensure effective and efficient response to snow and ice conditions. Unplanned, reactive responses to localized conditions conflict with and inhibit an effective approach to citywide snow/ice events. The City will also attempt to provide snow and ice control in the safest and most cost-effective manner as practical, keeping in mind safety, budgetary constraints, personnel, and environmental concerns. Together, we are all responsible for keeping Duluth safe for winter travel.

Decision to Begin Operations

The Street Maintenance Manager or their designee(s) will decide when to begin snow and/or ice control operations. Most snow and ice control operations are performed at night or early in the morning and often require crews to work arduous hours, including weekends and holidays. When snow falls on a weekend or holiday and is not considered a major threat to public safety, main arterial streets (Priority 1) will be plowed and sanded. Priority 2-3 streets will be plowed and sanded the next normally scheduled workday. The criteria for snow and ice operations to begin will include, but is not limited to:

  • Reasonable threat of inclement weather predicted to occur within 24 hours
  • Storm conditions that warrant pre-treatment with salt or brine solution
  • Snow accumulation, or as road conditions warrant
  • Drifting of snow
  • Icy conditions
  • Timing of snowfall

Use of Salt and Sand

The City may use de-icing chemicals and washed sand when hazardous winter driving conditions are present or forecasted. We attempt to strike a balance between environmental consciousness, safety and mobility of the public, and monetary costs associated with the use of de-icing chemicals. Knowing the long-term environmental impacts that de-icing chemicals can cause, we limit our usage wherever and whenever we can. Operators go through a yearly training, along with MPCA Smart Salting Certification every three years. To help further reduce our overall usage of de-icing chemicals, early fall and late spring snowfalls or trace amounts of snow may be left on roadways if melting is determined to be imminent or if substantial damage will be caused by plows to the pavement structure or yards and boulevards. When de-icing is required, we attempt to treat the street surface in such quantities as to provide a level of skid resistance with standards normally experienced on city streets throughout Minnesota.

Snow Removal

Snow removal operations shall be performed on streets and alleys maintained by the City. Snow removal priority shall be determined by the Street Maintenance Manager or their designee(s), and are always lower priority to snow and ice control measures.

Method of Snow Plowing

Snow will be plowed in a manner so as to promote safety while minimizing traffic obstructions. The center of the roadway will be plowed first. The discharge shall go onto the shoulder and boulevard area of the street and minimize or reduce snow stack upon walkways, where practical.

Weather Conditions/Suspension of Operations/Limited Staff

Snow and ice control operations will be conducted only when weather conditions do not endanger the safety of City employees and equipment. Factors that may delay snow and ice control operations include severe cold, significant winds, and limited visibility. Generally, operations shall continue until all roads are passable. Widening, benching, and push-back operations may continue immediately or on the following workday(s) depending upon conditions and circumstances. Safety of the plow operators and the public is essential; therefore, snow plowing/removal operations may be temporarily suspended due to periods of low visibility. In instances where hazardous conditions persist over multiple shifts, the Street Maintenance Manager or their designee(s) will suspend operations to allow personnel adequate time for rest.

  • During these instances when there is limited staff, operations will concentrate only on P1s and prioritize emergency routes. The exact names of these streets and avenues will be directly dependent on current weather and traffic conditions as well as on-call staff.

Any decision to suspend operations shall be made by the Street Maintenance Manager or their designee(s) and shall be based on the current and future conditions of the storm. The City will still provide access for emergency fire, police, and medical services during a major snow or ice storm. (Defined below)

Snow and Ice Control Priorities

City streets are classified based on street function, traffic volume, and importance to the welfare of the community. The streets within the city are prioritized to clear major travel routes first. This allows emergency services vehicles access to most parts of the city.


  1. Main Arterials (Priority 1): High-volume streets with higher probability of accidents must be clear to provide access for emergency services like fire, police, and medical services along with mass transit.
    1. P1s with steep inclines in the business districts will have maintenance priority when there is limited staffing or severe snow/ice to the point where our staff cannot achieve significant progress against the current conditions.
  2. Residential Streets (Priority 2): Lower volume streets, generally consisting of neighborhoods and subdivisions.
  3. Alleys (Priority 3): Alleys are considered the last priority and will be plowed once P1s and P2s have been serviced.

Minimum Levels of Service

The following are minimum levels of service that can be anticipated. The City will attempt to achieve better results where possible.

  • When there are winter events that end and start again prior to the timelines below ending, the minimum service levels reset with the onset of the new winter event. This is a key fundamental for keeping emergency services vehicle access to all areas in the city.


  1. Snow removal and/or sanding operations shall begin when snow accumulation or icing occurs on P1 streets, and shall continue periodically throughout the duration of the snowfall. It is the intent of the City to attempt to keep these routes open to traffic during a storm; however, it may not be possible to keep them free of snow or ice depending on the severity of the storm.
  2. Priority 1 streets shall be open to traffic (two lanes) within 36 hours after the snowfall subsides.
  3. Priority 2 streets shall be open to traffic (one lane) within 48 hours after the snowfall subsides.
  4. Priority 3 public alleys shall be opened and made passable within 56 hours after the snowfall subsides.

Conditions Which May Impact Goals Stated Within This Policy

  • Vehicles disabled in deep snow
  • Weather so severe as to cause crews to be called in from the street, i.e., whiteout conditions or icy conditions
  • Equipment rendered inadequate by the depths of the snow, drifts or ice conditions, Re-fueling, refilling material spreaders, installing new plow cutting edges, and routine maintenance
  • Illegally parked, parked, or stalled vehicles that restrict or prevent access; those streets, walks and pathways will be assigned to lower priority, as available
  • Unforeseen emergencies
  • Equipment breakdown