TOWNSEND -- A few days before in advance, the word gets out. A winter storm is coming.

The grocery store will be jammed as people search for just the right treat to enjoy while snugging up warm inside while the wind howls. Outdoor types check the bottom of their skis. Others dream of warmer climes.

In the meantime, the guys at the highway department are getting ready for whatever might be headed their way.

Trucks are checked, supplies monitored and outside contractors lined up.

Between year-round staff, temporary workers and self-employed plow truck drivers, you can expect to see 17 people out clearing the streets.

Usually, things go smoothly for the crew.

"It's worked well for the last 15 years I've been here," said Highway Superintendent Ed Kukkula.

Town workers set out as soon as the roads get slippery, spreading a mixture of sand and salt.

The salt is the effective substance but expensive, he said. Using sand decreases the material cost.

If the storm is shaping up to be a doozy, the plows start going out as soon as the sanding is done. If the snowfall is slow, the crew waits until a few inches have fallen.

The job takes a toll on equipment. Contractors use their own vehicles.

"It's not something you want to do in a new truck," he said.

Drivers also face another challenge: vehicles left in the road.

"You'd be surprised," Kukkula said.

It is not uncommon to find all the cars moved out of the driveway as it is being cleared.

Kukkula suggested clearing the driveway in stages, moving the cars from one spot in the yard to another in order to leave the roadways open for plows.

Piles of snow moved onto the street are another problem.

Some private plow operators push snow across the street from the end of a private driveway.

No problem, the superintendent said, as long as a mound of snow is not left on the road.

If the workers spot a problem with cars or snow piles on the road, the police are called in.

Under the town bylaws, the highway department can have vehicles towed but have not done that, Kukkula said.

Occasionally, property owners have problems with the plows.

Mailboxes are damaged by piles of snow and the edges of lawns are torn up.

"We don't pay for that," he said.

Homeowners should check their mailboxes to make sure the poles are not rotten. Even pressure treated lumber can fail if it is 20 years old, he said.

If the property owner can prove the damage was malicious, the town might pay for the damage. It would have to be a direct hit, perhaps with paint on the damaged box, before a claim could be made, he said.

And the damaged lawns?

"Most of the time, we own that property," he said. Roads have a 30 to 40 foot right-of-way owned by the town. Some property owners re-apply mulch at the roadside yearly, others plant new seed.

It is all part of living in New England.