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Though being outdoors in frigid weather can be painfully cold, some still have to bear through it for work. (Photo: Lydia Hoverson/The Dakotan)
Though being outdoors in frigid weather can be painfully cold, some still have to bear through it for work. (Photo: Lydia Hoverson/The Dakotan)

Employed in the Cold 

Lydia Hoverson
 December 23, 2022
 •

How Outdoor Workers Fare 

lydia.hoverson@mydakotan.com  

MINOT – Though even just a few seconds in minus 20 degrees and strong winds can leave your face in pain, some must bear through it all day as they work outside for a living. 

Dan Jonasson, Minot’s public works director, said all work outside unsurprisingly takes a lot longer when it’s cold. 

“We provide a lot of cold weather gear for them,” said Jonasson.  

Jonasson thinks the workers that have it the worst are those that deal with water main breaks. 

“They’re dealing with water and freezing,” Jonasson explained. “I’ve got to say, our workers are real troopers. They’ll tackle it and get it done. The cold weather is a bit of a hindrance.” 

Not only is it harder on the workers, it’s harder on the equipment as the hydraulics are slower to react. There is also typically more work to do when it’s cold. 

“They do a good job, just some things take a little longer,” said Jonasson. “Might need a little warm up time in the vehicles, dress heavier.” 

Ward County Highway Engineer Dana Larsen said with space being limited, not all the equipment can be placed inside a heated garage. 

“Sometimes certain pieces get moved in and some moved out,” said Larsen. “We try to melt out the snow. The snow does get accumulated and makes it very difficult if equipment needs to be worked on or repaired. Of course, starting equipment when it gets this cold, you have a lot of issues.” 

The county employees take special precautions such as using a special fuel so as to prevent equipment failing on them and causing them to be stranded in the cold. 

“There’s a winter blend for diesel fuel,” said Larsen. “We try to make sure we have our winter blend in all of our systems before any cold shows up. When it gets extremely cold, we put additives in the fuel because what you don’t want is a truck quitting out in the middle of a snowstorm, because that means in order to get it started again you’ve got mechanics out there working on this piece of equipment when it’s subzero wind chills and you are touching cold steel.” 

It’s best to do as much preventative work to not get to the point of breaking down in the cold, says Larsen. He also said it is up to each employee to make sure they wear appropriate attire. 

“There’s times when the guys actually turn the heat down in the vehicle because you have snow that you’re plowing, so you have a big snow fog coming up to your vehicle,” Larsen explained. “If your windows are warm, sometimes that snow will freeze to your window which makes it impossible for them to see. So there’s a few operators who will dress extremely warmly, and keep the temperature in the cab just above freezing so the snow doesn’t freeze to their window.” 

There is of course no one way to deal with snow, as Larsen said every day is different depending on the texture of the snow. 

“If you have warmer conditions and heavy snow, you don’t have the same problems as you do when you maybe have fine snow and that snow fog,” Larsen explained. “Sometimes it changes during the day.” 

Larsen said everything on the equipment gets looked through every night when it’s done for the day, as well as in the mornings before workers go out. 

The county maintains over 700 miles of roads, with around seven snow plow trucks that are out plowing the 315 miles of pavement and nine motor graders that primarily work on the 400 miles of gravel. There are an additional four sander trucks following them. 

“If it just snowed and stayed there, it’s pretty easy to maintain,” said Larsen. “The problem is when you get the lighter snow and the winds and the snow blows back in. People will pile up snow on the edge of the road and make drifts, and we have to take care of that.” 

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