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Although the snow hasn't started falling, PennDOT is preparing for the winter driving season.

State officials outlined their plan for winter services Thursday at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

“Our number-one priority is safety, and that guides our winter preparations and operations,” PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards said. “We are ready for the season ahead and want the public to prepare and be aware of the tools available to them.”

The public may access travel information on nearly 40,000 state-maintained roadway miles year-round at 511PA.com. During the winter they can find plow-truck locations and details of when state-maintained roadways were last plowed.

The information is made possible by PennDOT’s Automated Vehicle Location (AVL) technology, which uses units in each of the more than 2,500 department-owned and rented plow trucks to send a cellular signal showing where a truck is located. Motorists can expect additional enhancements to 511PA throughout the winter season.

To help the public prepare for the season and share information about winter services, PennDOT offers operational information and traveler resources at penndot.gov/winter. The site also has a complete winter guide with detailed information about winter services in each of PennDOT’s 11 engineering districts.

If motorists encounter snow or ice-covered roads, they should slow down, increase their following distance and avoid distractions, according to PennDOT. Last winter in Pennsylvania, preliminary data show there were 440 crashes resulting in one fatality and 221 injuries on snowy, slushy or ice-covered roadways where aggressive-driving behaviors such as speeding or making careless lane changes were factors.

Motorists should prepare for potential bad weather by ensuring they have supplies in their cars before heading out: food; water; blankets; extra gloves and hats; cellphone charger; hand or foot warmers; windshield brush and scraper; and any specialized items like medications or baby and pet supplies.

“We know that winter weather can hit hard and fast in Pennsylvania,” PEMA Director Randy Padfield said. “But if we know it’s coming, we can prepare for it, and we all have a role to play in making sure our loved ones are ready for winter driving.”

Padfield said it’s also important to know the difference between a weather watch and warning:

• A watch means there is increased risk of a hazardous weather event, but its occurrence, location or timing is still uncertain. Pay attention to forecasts and plan out what you will do if/when it occurs.

• A warning means the weather event is imminent or is happening. Take immediate action to protect lives and property.

In addition, snow squalls can often produce dangerous and deadly travel hazards on otherwise clear winter days. The National Weather Service now issues “Snow Squall Warnings,” which alert drivers of whiteout conditions and slippery roadways so motorists can avoid traveling directly into these dangerous squalls.

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