CUMBERLAND - Three local almanacs contain three different forecasts for the upcoming winter season, each with a different long-range forecast for Maryland.

No matter what winter brings in the way of blasts of snow or a coating of ice, the Maryland Department of Transportation's State Highway Administration is ready.

SHA has nearly 340,000 tons of salt for 2007 to 2008. To tackle especially challenging snow levels in the rural parts of the state, the fleet includes nearly 80 wing plows. This extra wing allows crews to move more snow in one pass and speeds snow removal and improves safety.

"Helping people remain safe on the roads is the core of all SHA operations," said SHA Administrator Neil Pedersen, who also serves as the governor's highway safety representative. "Additionally, we're pleased to be a bit more 'green' this year as we battle the white stuff. SHA is increasing the use of biodiesel as an additive in our fuel for the heavy truck fleet. The biodiesel is more environmentally friendly and is a renewable resource, unlike fossil fuel."

By the end of 2007, all diesel vehicles, including plow trucks, will operate using a 5 percent mixture of biodiesel fuel, comprised solely of soybean oil. Starting in 2008, SHA's goal will be to increase biodiesel use with a 20 percent mixture of biodiesel, depending upon market availability.

When a winter weather emergency occurs, the command center for winter storm operations monitors traffic, collects information from roadway sensors and deploys equipment such as snowplows and salt trucks.

Travelers can plan ahead by logging onto and clicking on CHART, which offers travel information, snow emergency plans, real-time traffic camera views and weather information. Motorists can also call the Winter Storm Hotline at 1-800-327-3125 for road closures.

Tips for winter driving:

* Never pass a snow plow. If driving behind a snow plow or salt truck, provide at least seven car lengths behind the truck.

* Bridges, ramps and over passes freeze first. Use caution when driving across them.

* Clear snow from your vehicle's headlights, roof and from other places that may obstruct vision or become a danger for other motorists.

* Slow down, increase your distance between vehicles in front of you, avoid distractions and drive defensively.

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