What’s Hard About Ice?

Answers to Your Burning Questions About Ice Management

Some people like snow, some people don’t like snow, but there’s one thing snow-lovers and snow-haters can agree on…NO ONE likes ice. And that includes Snow Fighters like our team at ProScape. Ice is flat out, no fun, dangerous, and tough to manage. And so far this 2016-17 winter, we have had more than our fair share in central Ohio. In my nearly 15 years of snow and ice management experience, I can’t remember 3 major ice events, much less 3 within a month.

So why do we hate ice and why is it so hard to manage?

Ice storms are very difficult to plan for, because very minor atmospheric changes in an air mass causing a 1 degree shift or slight timing change can mean the difference between all rain, all snow, or all ice. It’s usually anybody’s guess! And when it comes as ice, it can be a no-win situation for us…manage it aggressively and customers might question or dispute their bills, manage it too conservatively and someone falls and there’s a lawsuit.

What goes into managing an ice storm?

Let’s take for example the first ice storm of the season that occurred on December 17. The day before, the temperatures had been in the single digits, so the ground temperatures were in the high teens. Freezing rain, very heavy at times, mixed with just a little bit of snow, fell overnight and by daybreak a solid 0.25-0.30” of ice covered the ground. Solid, slippery, WET ice! Seriously, the worst possible kind. The forecast had been all over the place as to whether the precipitation would fall as rain, snow, or freezing rain. We began with a first round of salting overnight and the salt was doing nothing to melt the ice; it burned some small holes through the ice but that’s it! Around daybreak, we salted again and the ice slushed up just a little bit, but didn’t melt…so we had to plow it off, then salt it again.

Why would we have to plow when it was just ice?

It takes an incredible amount of salt to melt that much solid ice. To put it in perspective, if it was snow, 0.25-0.30” of liquid equivalent would be 2.5”-6” of snow, which we would never try to melt off with salt, but with ice we don’t have a choice! Our goal was simply to get it to break up enough that we could peel it up with plows and scrape it down to the blacktop.

The forecast was calling for temperatures to be over 40 degrees by noon – wouldn’t it just melt?

Unfortunately not. There were 2 factors preventing the ice from melting on its own. Remember the days prior, air temps had been in the single digits, meaning the  ground temperatures were still in the teens to low twenties (the ground warms and cools a lot more slowly than the air); therefore, it would take much higher ambient air temperatures to warm it enough to melt. Then, adding insult to injury, because of some sort of atmospheric factors, the actual temperature by noon only warmed to 34 degrees!

What about the other ice storms we’ve had this year?

We had basically a carbon copy of that event on December 18 and again on January 10! The tough part on January 10 was that it was a weekday and every business that we care for was open and the event didn’t start until after 5am! On January 10, almost all of our sites had residual salt on them from recent events, and the highest maintenance accounts were even pre-salted (salted before there was actually active precipitation) starting about 4am to proactively keep the ice from bonding to the blacktop and building up. However, the floodgates opened around 5 and continued until 8am…right over rush hour.

What happens if we salt before or during an ice storm?

So here’s the really tough part about managing an ice storm as opposed to a snow storm: with snow, if you get even as much as a few inches, it is still passable, and as long as people use a little common sense, conditions don’t get really bad right away, and mostly as a result of people driving over the snow and turning it to ice. But with freezing rain, it takes only minutes to cover over a site and make it extremely slippery. Once we salt it, if the freezing rain continues, it quickly dilutes the salt to where it no longer keeping the ice melted and it ices up again! So even at sites we pre-salted or salted early in the event, as soon as people started arriving at the sites, they thought we weren’t doing our job and called to complain. Believe me, I don’t blame them. We are their provider and they pay us to take care of it. We completely own that, and we take it VERY seriously. The challenge is simply that in order to keep every site clear, we almost literally have to be everywhere at once because during active precipitation, even a heavy salt application may only hold it for an hour. We literally had clients whose properties we had heavily treated twice that didn’t think we had been there at all. Fortunately we keep great records and almost every one of our sites are electronically logged in real time so we can tell what is being done.

So should we just wait to salt until the event is over?

No. Even though I just explained how salt can get diluted and more ice can build up, it is still better to get salt down before, or at least as early as possible, rather than waiting. For one thing, depending on the timing, a certain site may have heavy traffic right in the middle of the ice event, such as rush hour or a shift change. Additionally, pretreating can prevent the ice or snow from bonding to the blacktop, leading to better, safer conditions in less time.

Thank you!

We are so grateful for excellent clients, who after an explanation, understood the challenges of the storm and that we were engaging all necessary resources to keep properties as safe as possible! If you are a current client and reading this, thank you for continuing to place your trust in us! Please recognize that we take our role very seriously and use all available information to make the best possible decision. Unlike the weather men, we have very real consequences when the weather doesn’t behave as planned!

I think many people are ready for some snow this year. Sure it means work for us, but also sledding, snowmen, and a breathtakingly beautiful cover over the winter landscape. But no matter what, here’s hoping we dodge the ice storms for the rest of the winter!

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