JEFFERSON CITY - The leaves fall, the temperatures drop, and before you know it, winter has settled across Missouri.While you're still hunting for the ice scraper, the Missouri Department of Transportation started preparing for the first winter storm months ago. In fact, MoDOT employees will put their preparations to the test by holding the department's first statewide winter operations drill on Oct. 31."The way MoDOT deals with snow is a year-round topic of conversation for many of our employees, and we're always looking for ways to improve our performance," said State Maintenance Engineer Beth Wright. "This year, we're trying something new that will allow us to test the readiness of employees and equipment."During the statewide winter operations drill, MoDOT will activate its emergency operations centers, and trucks with snowplows and spreaders will deploy across state routes in response to a simulated snowfall event. "We have a detailed plan and our trucks drive set routes that allow us to work efficiently and make the most of our resources," said Wright. "This exercise gives us a chance to measure that snowplow circuit and better anticipate response times when it really does snow."Motorists may notice increased numbers of MoDOT vehicles on state routes during the drill. In rural areas, crews will deploy after 8 a.m. In urban areas, the drill will not begin until after 9 a.m. Wright estimates that the exercise will take approximately six hours.The drill isn't the only element to MoDOT's winter weather operations. All maintenance employees complete an annual winter skills training that serves as a refresher course for plowing snow. The training assures that proper equipment operation, plowing techniques and safety measures are fresh on employees' minds as winter approaches."Our ultimate goal is to attack that first storm like we've been plowing snow all year," said Wright. "With careful planning and preparation, our crews will mobilize, equipment will be ready, and we can stay with it until all roads have been plowed." The Missouri Department of Transportation annually spends about $42 million to keep roads clear in the winter and help ensure motorists get to their destinations safely and quickly. For information on road conditions across the state, safe traveling tips, and other winter weather information, visit www.modot.org.