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New Yorkers Track Snowplows Online

By Sean Captain
February 9, 2013; 10:02 AM ET

This story was originally about the last snow storm that hit New York City, however, the technologoy mentioned will most likely be used again this weekend.

This week isn't the first time New Yorkers have used the word "snowpocalypse." It emerged during a storm in 2010 that was remarkable not only for up to 30 inches of snowfall but also for the inexplicable absence of plows to move it. A staggering number of plows and salt spreaders — 258 — got stuck in the snow, and New Yorkers reported seeing crews sitting around, sleeping and even drinking.

New Yorkers enter an address to see what priority their street is and when the plows are coming. CREDIT: Sean Captain / PlowNYC

In response, the city created in February 2012 a program called "PlowNYC," and this storm is its first big test. GPS systems are on 1,700 city vehicles, including about 3,000 plow trucks and salt spreaders. They transmit 15,000 data points per minute to a Web service where residents can enter their address to see when plows have gone by and when they are expected back. The maps are updated every half hour.

New Yorkers can also see how likely a plow is to come at all. The city designates four types of streets, from the most critical to ones that don't get plowed at all. [See also: Snowmageddon Alerts Hit NYC Cellphones]

New York isn't the only city to GPS-track its snowplows. Chicago, for example, debuted a similar system in January 2012. And Calgary, in Canada, launched one in 2010, though it still hasn’t equipped all its trucks with GPS. Several counties around the U.S. also have plow-tracking programs, as does the state of New Jersey, according to the GPS-focused news site, Rocky Mountain Tracking.

Besides letting New Yorkers see where the trucks are, PlowNYC can show city officials where things are going wrong.

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