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When Salt Won’t Do the Trick

By Lependorf & Silverstein on November 28, 2018

If you’re a New Jersey resident, you remember the weather we had at the start of 2018. How could anyone forget? Early January saw wind gusts of more than 70 miles per hour and more than a foot of snow. Many New Jersey schools opened two hours later than normal during the worst of the storm. These harsh conditions were caused by a rapid plunge in barometric pressure, called a bombogenesis or “bomb cyclone” by weather forecasters.

That extreme nature of the storm left New Jersey cities with a lot of road plowing and salting to do. With winter coming up, the possibility of extreme snow storms is on every Nor’easter’s doorstep.

However, the extreme cold means the risk of salt losing its ability to melt ice.

The Science Behind the Salt

Salt works wonders to melt the ice on our roads…until it doesn’t. How does salt melt ice? It lowers water’s freezing temperature from 32 degrees Fahrenheit to 20 or even 15 degrees Fahrenheit. On a molecular level, the salt gets “in the way” of the water trying to form ice. As the water molecules try to align, salt molecules intercede. In fact, a salt-water spray has actually been shown to be more effective in preventing ice, since the salt is already dissolved in water.

Notice that we said salt turns water’s freezing temperature down to 15 or 20 degrees. The real question here is, what happens when outside temperatures are even lower than that? Meteorologist Paul Gross says that once you reach near 10 degrees and below, salt hardly melts ice at all. At extremely low temperatures, even salt is at its freezing point.

How Cities Remedy Salt’s Ineffectiveness

When salt is no longer an effective way to reduce the amount of ice on the road, cities do have a few backup options. First, highway crews can shift to sanding, rather than salting, the roads. Instead of attempting to melt the ice with salt, crews put down sand to improve traction. Sand crystals increase friction and help prevent vehicle tires from slipping on slick roads.

In addition to sanding, cities can also use chemicals in place of salt to melt snow and ice at temperatures well below zero. Adding calcium chloride to salt, for example, accelerates the melting process. However, the use of such chemicals is very expensive and is usually not budgeted, as temperatures with precipitation rarely go below the low 20s and 30s, even in the Northeast (WGN-TV).

When salt or sand is used on city roads, it’s important to keep in mind the effect they have on your car and tires. While they make the roads safer, their corrosive nature can damage paint finish, and make parts of your car susceptible to rust. You can prevent these negative effects by washing your car early and often, by avoiding driving into heavy snow, and by taking a moment each night to brush off any snow that’s piled up on your car. As with most winter driving practices, prevention is key.

How to Keep Your Property Safe

While cities have their own methods of managing icy roads that often put cost-effectiveness first, you can practice the most effective method of ice thawing on your personal property to prevent icy slips and falls. If you slip and fall on someone else’s property, that’s a different story, and we recommend calling us at Lependorf & Silverstein, P.C., (609) 240-0040, to talk about getting compensation. Now, back to de-icing!

Reader’s Digest suggests creating a mixture of a half-gallon of hot water, about six drops of dish soap, and ¼ cup of rubbing alcohol. Then, you can pour the mixture onto your sidewalk or driveway and the snow will begin to bubble up and melt. (You may have to scrape away any leftover pieces of ice.)

What’s the trick, you ask? The idea is similar to using salt, except that rubbing alcohol has an even lower freezing point at -128 degrees. As an added bonus, you can also add the mixture to a spray bottle and it will defrost your car windows and windshield in less than one minute!

Another option that can directly replace normal salt is magnesium chloride. Again, this replacement is more effective at lower temperatures, down to -20 to -25 degrees Fahrenheit. Meteorologist Paul Gross says that it’s also more environmentally friendly. The chemical makeup of salt can burn your lawn, and be harmful to pets and plants. Although magnesium chloride is more expensive, its effectiveness at low temperatures and its “green” appeal make it a good choice for the coldest parts of winter.

With these methods, you’re sure to stay safe this winter, even when it gets too cold for salt. And perhaps you may even have a little less shoveling to do? We’ll say cheers to that.

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The firm’s principals, Gabriel R. Lependorf and David E. Silverstein, have each been representing injured victims in the State of New Jersey for over twenty years.

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