How Bostonians should prepare for winter this year

Hint: Sign up for the city's emergency alert system.

Boston got 275.8 cm of snow over the winter, the most since 1872, when records began. . REUTERS/Brian Snyder
– Brian Snyder / REUTERS

At a press conference staged in front of a few mountains of the city’s winter salt supply, Mayor Marty Walsh said both the city’s plows and officials are equipped for whatever inclement weather this winter brings.

“Our winters, we know, in the city can be tough, but the people of Boston are even tougher than the winter,” he said. “We’ve lived through winters that seemed like they would never end.”

Here’s what Walsh and his colleagues at City Hall want Boston residents to know as the coldest time of year arrives.

The city is ready

Walsh said the city has stocked 44,000 tons of salt across Boston to tackle the ice and snow when it arrives. Workers will also use brining solution in some key locations, said Chris Osgood, the city’s chief of streets, transportation, and sanitation.


The city has also expanded its fleet of snow plows and now has about 200 pieces of snow equipment, in addition to 500 contracted snow plows that can be called in during the most severe storms.

New equipment will service the city’s growing network of bike lanes, and a GPS system will track snow plow activity in real time, Walsh said.

The new system will allow managers in the public works department to see where equipment has been deployed for snow removal and track their routes, giving the city real-time information on which streets have been plowed and which have not, according to the mayor’s office.

“We’ve restructured our shifts a little bit this year so that we’ll have as many people on in advance of the a.m. commute as well as in advance of the p.m. commute,” Osgoode said.

Sheila Dillon, the city’s housing chief and director of neighborhood development, said local and state agencies have been working to ensure Boston’s homeless population stays safe during the winter.

“Our current system has room for about 1,550 adults,” she said. “Knowing that our shelters get full in the winter, we have brought on capacity for an additional 200 beds. We think that will get us through the winter.”


She said the city is prepared to bring in more beds “as necessary.”

When it comes to school closings due to the weather, Walsh said that like last year, the hope is to cancel school the day before when possible.

“Just to give parents the ability to find child care,” he said. “We were pretty successful with that last year.”

In the event of school closures, the mayor said Boston Centers for Youth and Families will remain open for children 7 years old and older in order to provide a safe and warm space for kids while their parents are at work.

Sign up for AlertBoston

Walsh urged city residents to sign up for AlertBoston in order to be notified by text, phone, and email in the event of an emergency, including declared snow emergencies.

“We believe that in order to keep people safe, we have to keep them informed,” the mayor said. “Our AlertBoston system has been very effective keeping people in the loop.”

Notifications can be sent out in English, Spanish, French, and Chinese.

Use the city’s 311 line

Boston officials emphasized the importance of utilizing 311, the line that connects city residents to non-emergency services and information by phone, online, and on Twitter during the winter months.

During snowstorms, additional 311 staff will be available to answer questions about closings, plowing, or finding a place to park during a snow emergency.

Through the number, residents can report if a business is plowing snow onto a sidewalk or if they see or know someone who needs help during the storm, among other actions.


Elderly residents who have cracked windows or a leaking roof can make a report through 311 and city employees or contractors will respond within 24 hours, according to Dillon.

Prepare to help others

After you’ve signed up for AlertBoston and checked your emergency supply kit — which should be stocked with water, flashlights, batteries, and extra blankets — Boston officials are urging you to check on your elderly or homebound neighbors.

Officials said they are also relying on residents to take public transportation during storms when possible and asked that drivers avoid parking close to street corners to make room for snow plows.

They also emphasized the importance of taking time to shovel ramps and hydrants near your house to help first responders in the event of an emergency.

Know the rules for space savers

Walsh and Jerome Smith, the civic engagement chief and director of neighborhood services, took turns speaking about “everyone’s favorite topic”: space savers.

“Space savers are only to be used in the neighborhoods when the city declares a snow emergency,” Smith said. “If there’s snowstorm but we do not declare a snow emergency, space savers are prohibited.”

Space savers must be removed 48 hours after the city’s snow emergency ends and they are not allowed at any time in Boston’s South End neighborhood.


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