Cleveland snow plows, newly painted as part of a collaboration with local artists, line a parking lot.
Cleveland snow plows, newly painted as part of a collaboration with local artists, line a parking lot. Credit: City of Cleveland

Cleveland is preparing the salt and snowplows for the Christmas weekend snow and ice, even as the city is still testing out new technology and plow routes, officials said Wednesday. 

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch beginning in the wee hours of Dec. 23 and lasting through Christmas morning on Sunday. Rain is expected to turn to snow Thursday night as temperatures plunge well below freezing. Snow is likely Friday and possible on Saturday and Sunday, with highs and lows in the teens and single digits. 

The city plans to deploy 45 to 50 trucks throughout the snowfall, working 24 hours a day to clear the roads, Public Works Director Frank Williams told media at a virtual news conference Wednesday morning. 

Crews will pre-treat the roads with salt to prevent ice from sticking to the asphalt. When temperatures hit the single digits, salt trucks will add chemicals to the mix. The plows will move to residential streets once main roads are passable, officials said. 

“We expect the temperatures to begin dropping below freezing early Friday morning, somewhere around 3 a.m.,” Commissioner of Streets Randall Scott said. “So when our third shift comes on at 11 o’clock that night, we will be in earnest pre-treating all major main and secondary main streets. And we expect that to prohibit any bonding to the pavement.” 

Mayor Justin Bibb’s snowplow tracker – launched in a rudimentary form amid last winter’s snowstorms – won’t be available to the public this time. City staff are testing an updated tracker internally for this snowfall before unveiling it in the coming weeks, Williams said. 

After a bumpy first snow season, the Bibb administration hired a consultant to devise more efficient plow routes and replace paper maps with electronic tablets. The new technology is being installed in trucks “as we speak,” and workers have been training on the new route system, Williams said. 

The city plans to test out its new approach to snow throughout the season, he said.

“This is a heavy lift for any city, and for a municipality with over 10,000 streets, this is a process that takes time,” Williams said. “It will go throughout the season, throughout this season and probably into the spring.”

Meanwhile, Cleveland Hopkins International Airport is bracing for about 415,000 passengers this holiday travel season, spokesman John Goersmeyer said. He encouraged travelers to arrive at the airport two hours before flights and to have a backup plan in case of delays or cancellations. 

“We are going to expect some rough times as far as travel, air travel, so it’s just really important to pack your patience and make sure you plan accordingly,” he said. 

Cleveland will extend the hours of several recreation centers for people who need a warm place to go. Zelma George, Collinwood, Michael Zone and Sterling rec centers will be open from 11:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Dec. 23. The following day, Dec. 24, they’ll be open from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. 

On Dec. 25 and 26, Michael Zone and Zelma George will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. 

Clevelanders using space heaters to keep warm at home should take precautions against starting fires, Fire Lt. Michael Norman said. Space heaters should be plugged into a grounded outlet and kept away from clothes, bedsheets and drapes. Once a room is warm enough, users should unplug their heaters.

Below, read winter safety tips circulated by the City of Cleveland.

Government Reporter (he/him)
Nick joins us from the world of public radio. He has more than a decade experience covering politics and government in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. In 2021, he produced and hosted "After Jackson: Cleveland's Next Mayor," an Ideastream Public Media podcast on the Cleveland mayoral race. He has also covered breaking news, opioid lawsuits and elections nationally for NPR.