Exacta meteorologist James Madden correctly predicted the past two harsh winters. It was white, crisp and the kids loved it but, according to Royal Sun Alliance, last year's big freeze cost the economy up to a £1.2bn per day. Temperatures fell to as low as -19 degsC and some parts of the UK were blanketed with 75cm of snow.
In June this year, Madden said he expects the winter of 2011-12 to be even worse than the past three. He currently believes that below-average temperatures and heavy snowfall are likely across many parts of the UK in December and in January. February is also likely to see below-average temperatures and moderate to heavy snowfall, he says.
So, are you ready? Do you need to keep access, drives, pathways, car parks or maintenance yards ice and snow free? The severity of the past few winters has driven demand and fuelled the development of winter clearance kit. A bewildering choice is now available, and several new companies have entered the scene.
Lift Safe, owner of ePower Trucks and supplier of equipment to local authorities and facilities management, has set up a new trading division - UK Snow Throwers - aimed at helping British business beat the snow this winter.
Lift Safe managing director Jerry Hanss says: "Snow-clearing equipment is common across northern Europe, but has never been widely used in Britain. The recent winters had a serious impact on a lot our of customers. They now recognise the cost of a snow thrower is minimal compared to closing their business due to bad weather."
UK Snow Throwers offers a wide range of snow-clearing machinery, from push-along units to heavy-duty tracked walk-behind machines to tackle deep drifts. The machines suck up snow and then propel it out at high speed up to 15m, shifting up to 80 tonnes of snow per hour. Prices start from £995 + VAT and all machines, which feature electric start for cold operation, are designed to be as easy to use as a standard garden lawnmower.
Honda (UK) is also making a move into snow thrower distribution. Head of power equipment Phil Webb says: "With the severity of the weather conditions we have experienced in the UK over the past few winters, and which are forecast to continue, we need something far tougher than a shovel and some salt to clear heavy snow quickly. Our snow blowers are popular in Europe and America.
Demand from UK customers has been growing over the past two years to introduce them here."
The Honda range comprises six models, with prices ranging from £1,600 to £3,100. All feature Honda four-stroke engines with a starting mechanism operable to -26 degsC, heavy-duty ice-breaking augers and a joystick-controlled chute to throw snow 14m to 16m in any chosen direction. Performance ranges from 37 tonnes per hour for the small HS622, up to 50 tonnes per hour for the HS970 and HS760 machines.
Two types of snow blower, both powered by MTD SnowThorX OHV petrol engines, have been introduced by Barrus. The single-stage machine features an auger that pulls the snow blower forward into the snow and then blows it out through the discharge chute. The two-stage machines, more suited for clearing larger areas, have Xtreme augers designed to slice through icy snow deposits, feed back to the rotor and then blow the snow out.
When it comes to de-icing and snow clearance, many maintenance teams can adapt equipment already in the shed - perhaps the tractor. Siromer Tractor's depot in Lancashire has a stock of snow blades and salt spreaders ready for distribution. Another company hoping to have sufficient stock is Wiedenmann UK. Last year the entire production of Wiedenmann's Snow Master range of blades sold out in Europe.
Wiedenmann's ever-increasing list of winter equipment - including snow blades, gritters and spreaders - is tested in Alpine Europe, as UK sales manager Chas Ayres explains: "Our research and development team works out of Rammingen, near Munich. When they need snow and ice-testing conditions, they are within 90 minutes of the Bavarian Alps, where snow is available six months every year."
It is not just tractors than can play a part in winter maintenance. Street maintenance vehicles, such as Euromec's PowerFlex, can be equipped with blades and brushes to remove snow and with gritters and de-icer sprayers. Or it might be possible to use a loader. A wide range of blades, buckets, spreaders and a blower is offered by Bobcat for use with compact loaders. Attachments are also available to turn 4x4s, utility vehicles and even ride-on mowers into snow-clearing kit. Cramer UK offers brush and plough implements for use with its ride-on mowers.
Allowing for versatility
One person who has recognised the benefit of increasing the versatility of his Kubota F2880 ride-on mower is Dave Faulkner, owner of contractors Lawns2Mow.
He explains that after seeing how many of his schools customers were forced to close because of snow and ice last winter, he is now considering purchasing a snow-plough attachment that will allow the company to clear paths and playgrounds quickly so facilities could remain open.
"Obviously for a contractor, turf maintenance is a seasonal business, so investing in a snow plough will allow us to offer an additional service to our customers," he says.
Kubota offers two snow blades that can be used with the RTV900 all-terrain utility vehicle, the B Series compact tractors and F Series professional out-front mower. Each blade has a 1.35m working width and hydraulic lift with mechanical or optional hydraulic angling.
Kubota UK's tractor and groundscare sales and marketing manager David Blackwood says: "Doing one job is no longer enough - equipment needs to be versatile to justify the expenditure. There's no need to put your Kubota RTV900, mower or tractor away until spring - simply fit a snow blade or salt spreader to make it a machine for all seasons."
Kersten Machines also helps mower owners use grass-cutting kit to clear snow. This season sees the addition of a 1.25m front-linkage blade with Quick-Attach-A system, replaceable edge and spring back protection. Kersten also supplies the Meyer range of snow and ice control equipment, along with kit to fit quad bikes and two-wheel tractors.
More two-wheel tractors are expected to be fitted with snow clearing attachments this year as Tracmaster expands its range of winter solutions.
The addition of the 700 series to the range means the BCS units come in four sizes. The BCS 720 can clear up to 2,500sq m of snow per hour, while the top of the range BC740 can clear up to 4,000sq m. Snow can be pushed along, swept away, blown or thrown. Tracmaster also supplies salt spreaders. And when there is no snow, the unit can be busy cutting grass or cultivating the soil.
This year also sees new development in the gritter/spreader market. DMMP now offers two walk-behind high-output spreaders specifically for spreading ice melt, rock salt, dry sand and grit.
More suited to councils and contractors, the SnowEx SP9300 is the latest addition to the SnowEx line-up of salt spreaders from Broadwood International. With a capacity of 2,300 litres, this spreader has been introduced as the largest trailed spreader allowable within the 3,500kg towing weight restrictions.
The SP9300 features a heavy-duty poly hopper, a full-length auger for continuous feeding of wet rock-salt and a vibrator for consistent flow - all mounted onto a high-spec twin-axle road-legal chassis with over-run brakes and lights. The in-cab controller gives infinite variation of application rate and spread width from 1.5m to 12m, while the optional Salt Traxx unit allows recording of salt used on each site throughout the night, which can subsequently be downloaded to a personal computer for management and pricing purposes.
Aimed at the 7.5 tonne lorry market, the SHPE3000 gritter is made in America by SaltDogg and is available in the UK from Loadlift. A weight of 500kg, plus a capacity of 2,500kg makes the unit's total gross weight 3,000kg when fully loaded.
The SHPE3000 benefits from an adjustable spinner height, so that different vehicle beds can be accommodated and is electrically powered from the vehicle to control auger speed (density), spinner speed (width) and also the vibrate motor to prevent bridging. Construction is of double-walled polymer and stainless steel. Other features include a double-door lid and top screen.
What to spread
- The popularity of Surefoot de-icer last year has prompted Green-tech to offer free samples of the product to the first 50 enquiries it receives from HW readers. (email firstname.lastname@example.org). The product can be used on footpaths or walkways, is non-corrosive and can be applied via a watering can with a fine rose or a sprayer. Surefoot prevents ice formation for 24-48 hours, unless it is washed away.
- Rolawn now has Hallstone de-icing salt available in both 600-litre bulk bags and 20kg small bags. The low-moisture rock salt has been designed for de-icing paths, roads and car parks. The product is screened to 6mm and also contains an anti-caking agent.
- Long Rake Spar is urging customers to order early to avoid restrictive supply problems. The firm has been packing pure rock salt since early summer.
Tips for the winter
- Order salt and grit early.
- Invest in the right equipment for clearing snow and gritting or de-icing.
- Ensure that all vehicles and machinery are functioning and winter-ready.
- Make sure that salt, grit and shovels are available in the same area where machinery is stored.
- Keep a watch on forecasts and prepare accordingly.
- Establish an early warning system to advise your workforce, suppliers and customers of any impact caused by the bad weather.
- Develop contingency travel plans with employees, including working from home when necessary.
- In case of IT disruption, make a hard-copy list of emergency contacts, including insurance agent, electrician and plumber.
NOTE: Red diesel
The Government is asking local authorities to grit the main arterial routes and appeals to farmers to use tractors to keep rural roads open. HM Revenue & Customs says that farmers can use red diesel in tractors while helping to clear public roads.