LETTER: What’s Goes Crash in the Night – Snow Plows!


For the first time since my husband and I moved here in 2009, snow plows at night are keeping us awake, and during the last two storms did so for ​nearly four hours after we tried to go to sleep. We’re not sure what made them so loud. They seemed to be moving fast around our intersection (we’re one of the corner houses). We and some others have bedrooms very close to the street, and most of the houses are close to the street in general, so the noise is close to many people. We watched the plow for awhile (it was clear we wouldn’t be sleeping for some time) to try to determine just what it was crashing and banging against – curbs, sewer grates, potholes? The plow blade seemed to drag along the street heavily – maybe in the past our plows’ blades were raised a little higher – an inch or so? We just couldn’t tell. In past winters those grates, curbs, and potholes were all there, yet we could sleep. I’m not talking about typical plow noise but rather noise like a series of car crashes or explosions that on two occasions jolted us right off the mattress. Could it be the drivers on these nights were in more of a hurry, maybe drinking lots of coffee, maybe talking on the phone, maybe playing a loud radio so they don’t hear their own crashing so loudly, or all the above?

​Calls to DPW yielded no improvement. One person, who we called after a bad night in the first storm, said the driver would be told. We got our hopes up. During the night of the second storm someone we called said the supervisor would be told. Hope again. Later that same night (we’d now given up on sleep), after another request that the plow driver move a little more carefully and try to observe the many curb markers we’d put up since the first storm (in case curb visibility was the problem), that same person’s reply to us changed to “We can’t do that ma’am.” OK, so now we were just cranks bothering them. I begged anyway. I said, “I’m BEGGING you, PLEASE.” No change. So they “can’t” ask the driver to be more careful when people are sleeping? Can’t ask him not to come back every 35 to 60 minutes as he did, and re-wake everyone repeatedly when it’s snowing much less-almost not at all, and a lot of the street is already cleared? Really?

Here’s why they CAN ask the driver to do that. The other day we observed ​a huge John Deere ​plow just like the one that kept us awake. ​The driver was ​shoveling both snow and dirt and doing it gently and quietly​, yet ​efficiently ​moving massive amounts of stuff. His blade was not scraping against ground, grates, or curbs​. He was poetry in motion with that truck–quiet poetry!​

Back to that second recent storm, though we’d been told there was only one driver, we were in fact also kept awake by a second one in a pick-up truck with plow blade. So from 9:30 p.m. to nearly 1 a.m., one driver or another crashed and banged through that intersection every 35 to 60 minutes – just time enough to drift off toward sleep, and the be violently awakened with another crash. (Hasn’t this kind of repeated halting of the process of falling asleep been successfully used as an instrument of torture?) The traffic earlier that night was light, and the snow already slowing, so we wonder why most plowing could not have been done then, while most people were still awake, then stopped by 8 p.m. or so when lots of the kids and several of the adults start going to sleep because they have to get up so early. If 8 pm is just impossible, then unless it’s a blizzard it seems as if 9 should be the outer limit, and no return plowing in most cases until around 6 in the morning. (Watertown residents, correct me if I’m wrong about those sleep hours, but that’s about how it works on our couple of streets here.)

That last night when hardly any snow was still falling, not much was being accomplished with these repeated plow trips except the chronic waking of everyone. And if there IS heavy snow that must be plowed later in the night, can’t there be a rule that it be done slowly and carefully so the work days of dozens of people aren’t wrecked the next day? They’re already facing digging out of their driveways in the morning – at least let them sleep. I know the plowing must be done but I can’t believe it has to be so destructive. Among our dozens of neighbors on that corner are nurses, teachers, airline personnel, medical researchers, and parents of young children, most of whom get up early. Most people want nurses, pilots, and their kids’ teachers to be awake and rested, right?.

We hope the town government never again forgets people must sleep, and many must get to sleep early. I ask the town to conduct activities so they never add to what for many is the already difficult task of getting to sleep. Adding plow noise pretty much seals the deal for the many already battling insomnia as well as for most people who normally sleep fairly well. Not many people can sleep through what sounds like a bomb going off. And much of our population includes light sleepers who need all the help they can get in staying asleep. (Our white noise machines were no match for those snow plows by the way.) Empathizing with people’s need for sleep is what a civilized city would do, and I like to think I live in one. It requires something else too–the golden rule. Maybe the DPW and the plow drivers could be reminded that their own loved ones need to sleep at night too.


Susan Cooke
Watertown Resident

21 thoughts on “LETTER: What’s Goes Crash in the Night – Snow Plows!

  1. The reason the plows seemed so loud was there wasn’t much snow on the streets to plow. Watertown is notorious for there trucks to drive around plowing nothing. When there is snow on the streets the plows glide smoothly along the thin 1/2-1″ of snow that’s there, but when there is straight pavement, the plows scrape along the pavement hitting all manholes. On my street, the last storm, a large plow truck was plowing pavement when he hit a man hole cover completly ripping out not just the lid but the entire rim. It sounded like a canon was shot.. The DPW was back in the morning completely repairing it. Unfortunatley this will never change.

    • Thanks Mike. Does anyone know WHY the plows keep going when there’s no need for them? Do the drivers earn extra money that way, do you think, or is the DPW just ignoring what goes on, or…I just wish I understood! Susan (one of the sleepless!) PS It reminds me of leaf-blower guys who stand around blowing bits of dust, torturing everyone with the noise and fumes. (Is that because they get extra money for continuing for longer too?)

      • Most snow removal contracts state that plowing begins when snow reaches a certain amount of inches. So if snow accumulation is at that predetermined amount by say midnight or 1:00 a.m. – that’s when they start plowing. Maybe a little understanding of the how and why are necessary before writing such an article.

  2. We have the best of snow removal of any town around, which I happen to really like. I guess you can’t please everybody.
    Maybe from now on if you don’t like snow during the day ….

  3. The DPW should be commended for making the roads safe. And you should move out of Watertown to the country with acres of land around you so no one will disturb you.

  4. I’ve lived here for three years, and Watertown DPW does a great job. Before this I lived in Arlington, and each winter, it seemed there’d be one storm they would completely botch, and if it happened right before an extended cold snap, everyone would be dealing with the icy, rutted remnants for days or weeks. I think thumbs up for the job they do in Watertown are in order!

  5. As someone who has lived in many communities and drives an hour to work every morning, I can say that Watertown’s roads are some of the clearest and safest roads whenever there is a snow event. Yes, nobody wants to be woken up at 4:00AM by a snow plow. The DPW deserves far more recognition and respect for keeping our roads safe and our commutes less stressful.

  6. I agree the DPW clears snow very well–thank you DPW! And I did comment on how beautifully one of the drivers cleared snow and dirt so quietly and skillfully during the day, a day or two after the last storm. Many of the workers have been on my street lately and are sweet, friendly, hardworking people. I’m only saying many people cannot sleep through noise as loud as we’ve been hearing, and as a researcher on public health I can tell you they suffer during those nights and the next day. Lack of sleep is a major contributor to depression, for example, which is a major contributor to other illnesses including heart disease and addiction. I don’t think the solution to the noise is that difficult–just a little more careful plowing when people are sleeping.

    • A few sleepless nights aren’t going to send someone spiraling down with depression! How many nights a year does this even happen?? 4? 5?
      I can’t believe you think this is a health issue!
      Maybe the fire department shouldn’t respond to fires at night because the sirens are too loud!

  7. It is absurd to assume that everyone in town is home by 9PM. Frankly, I don’t care if you have to lose a little sleep if it means that my husband has a better chance of getting home to me and our 7 month old son safely during a snow storm. I am so grateful for the thorough job the DPW does keeping the streets of Watertown clear.

  8. I only mentioned those times because I thought it might be impossible to plow with less noise. It sounds as if some people think it IS possible to plow with less noise. Obviously I don’t want anyone not to be safe and again I agree the streets are well-plowed and am grateful. I am only asking for the noise level to be what it was for several years-reasonable. It seemed to get very loud only this year, and maybe it’s only on our block–I don’t really know. Sounds like someone else has also experienced this. I don’t understand why there can’t be some discussion about how to make it just quiet enough so that whenever it has to be at night it isn’t so very loud.

  9. Susan Cooke, you sound like the person that want to live in Cambridge but can’t afford it… The Watertown DPW does an amazing job. It is New England it does snow and we do have to have plows. Deal with it or move to a state with a warmer climate


    Funny how they took out my post which called out Susan Cooke who on her Linked in Account posts that she is working on a BOOK which is about Stress in the American City. She wants to ban Leaf blower and plows.

    I wonder if this post is part of her book?

    Obviously you need to find a quiet place to move to. Or California – you wont have to worry about Plows there.

  11. Copied from facebook because this Susan Cooke is so damned asinine that I had to post it a second time:

    This letter is satire, right? Is The Onion leaking into Watertown News? Almost guaranteed that this person would be the same to complain if the roads weren’t plowed enough.

    Think about your emergency services having to drive on the roads at night. If the roads are unsafe and police, fire, or EMS are rushing to your home or a neighbor’s home because of some emergency, would you prefer they can’t get through thanks to snow build up? Would you like the ambulance rushing a two year old to the hospital to slide off the road because you can’t use ear plugs?

    What about people who need to go to work at Midnight? Too bad, they’re snowed in because you don’t want plows driving down the street and disturbing *you*. How selfish that your “night owl” neighbor wants to provide for him or herself and their family, they should be ashamed of wanted to travel safely on the roads when you try to sleep.

    Further, the weather can be rather unpredictable. If the snow fall is slowing down, is that a guarantee it will continue at a slow rate? Have we never got more snow than expected? Sure, sometimes we get less, but I’d rather be over prepared than under prepared.

    Please realize the world doesn’t revolve around you. The DPW works exceptionally hard to care for our community as best they can to provide for as many people as possible. I’m sorry you are a light sleeper. Learn to cope with it and let our town services to care for the community and stop wasting their time with your ridiculous complaints.

  12. OMG!!! Are you serious… Maybe we should change the hours of snow fall from 8a.m. to 3:38 p.m. I can not believe the absoulute ridiculous letter you wrote… The only response I can honeslty come up with is for you and your white noise machine is for you to put your house up for sale and move to a town that lifts up their plow blades so they do not disturb your precious sleep… What about these plow drivers who are working on little sleep… What about these plow drivers that are clearing these roads for your teacher, airline pilots, nurses and medical researchers to get to work so they can do their jobs so they can bring a paycheck home to support their families… When a plow truck comes by you should be thanking them…. Giving them acup of coffee, or soup… You ma’am are obviously a cambridge/newton transplant… For you to write this offends all of us who have lived here forever and respect and appreciate what these guys do for us when we are SLEEPING…

  13. There is a lot of noise pollution in Watertown. If you live on a hill airplane noise from Logan Airport in very loud from 6:30 am until 10:30 at night sometimes. Also dogs barking before 6 am until 10 at night. People need to be more considerate. I agree the plows are loud and they do seem to keep the plows down on bare pavement which in turn is doing a lot of damage to our streets. This all falls on deaf ears unfortunately.

  14. It’s ridiculous how the majority of the commentators are overreacting to this letter. What’s also ridiculous are the needless attacks on the writer. After reading through many of the comments, it seems obvious that most of the commentators didn’t even read the whole letter. Susan clearly appreciates the efforts the DPW makes to keep the roads safe and clear. It doesn’t make any sense that for years they were able to plow the roads without being so loud and disruptive, but they aren’t able to now. Why not? Maybe there’s a new plow driver that doesn’t know how to properly plow the road without being destructive. Perhaps this particular driver needs more training on how to properly plow the roads. Perhaps this driver just doesn’t care who he disturbs. It’s clear that the plowing can be done and be done without creating so much noise. It’s true that not everyone is asleep by 9pm, but a large part of the population is asleep at that time or close to it. Also, children that need to get up for school in the morning are usually asleep at that time and it is important for them to get their sleep. Clearly most of the commentators here aren’t thinking of these children. A good point has also been made about the fact that there are times when the drivers are plowing roads that haven’t accumulated enough to snow to be worthy of plowing, which is destructive to the roads and costly to the city. I really wish people would have little more common sense!

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