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To Fight Snow Storms, Bring Out the Big Data

Cities like Boston aren’t just rolling out the heavy-duty plow trucks. Analytic tools are helping them to make snow removal a smarter and more efficient process.
A worker clears snow from a Boston sidewalk during a winter storm Tuesday.
A worker clears snow from a Boston sidewalk during a winter storm Tuesday.Michael Dwyer/AP

When a blizzard rolls into town, cities usually bring out the big boys. By Monday night, facing a winter storm that dropped more than 2 feet of snow in some parts of the Northeast U.S., thousands of snow plows were lined up across the region. The next morning, long before the sun rose, many were already out on highways and on residential streets, shoving the glistening white powder out of the way.

But where they’re deployed can sometimes be a haphazard process, and depending on the city (say, Washington, D.C.), it’s not uncommon for the army of some hundred trucks to miss a spot—or, you know, an entire neighborhood. So, to ensure that the snow plows are reaching every corner of the city, some offices are relying on the power of big data.