Created: 02/25/2014 11:04 PM KAALtv.com
By: John Doetkott
(ABC 6 News) -- When the snow starts to fall, transportation officials know what's soon to follow.
"One of the questions that you would get all winter is, 'Where are the plows? I haven't seen a snow plow,’” said Pete Hjelmstad, a field services coordinator for the Iowa Department of Transportation in Mason City.
That's why Hjelmstad and other officials in Iowa have now made it easier to answer those questions.
Late last month, the Iowa DOT launched a new website that allows people to track plows in real time all across the state.
Officials said they hope the increase in information will help people make better decisions about whether or not to venture out.
"It's all about safety. That’s the number one goal of the DOT is to make sure people are safe on the highways, that our highways are safe,” Hjelmstad said. “When we can get them more information, we can help them out in that process."
But to take it a step further, the Iowa DOT is installing cameras on more than 200 plows so that people can get a firsthand look at road conditions.
"You can hear people talk all you want,” Hjelmstad said. “But all of a sudden you click on a picture that was taken five or ten minutes ago, and you see that the road is completely snow covered, or icy, or you see that the visibility is very poor, all of a sudden you think a little bit harder about whether or not you should be out on the road."
And when conditions are as bad as they were last week, officials said getting information out there is critical to help save lives.
"If that keeps a couple people off the road, keeps two people, two hundred, whatever, keeps them home, keeps them safe until later in the day when maybe the conditions have improved, it's definitely worth it,” Hjelmstad said.
The cameras being installed on the plows are actually old iPhones with an app that automatically sends pictures back from the road.
Currently they're only installed in central Iowa, but officials said they should be on plows in the northern part of the state in the next couple weeks.
To check out the map for yourself, click on the following link and then choose “Snowplow locations”: http://www.iowadot.gov/travel.html#/winterdriving