Cold to make road salt less effective

Anti-icing operation truck
Anti-icing operation truck

GRAND CHUTE - The weather this weekend will have city and highway plow crews busy again and it may take more salt and more time to try to keep travelers all around the area safe.

We often take for granted the job road salt can do to make our commute a safe one.

"People have gotten used to the highway department having plenty of material, plenty of labor, plenty of trucks to address these problems," said Winnebago County Highway Commissioner Ernie Winters.

But cities and counties go through tons of it every time it snows. But how much they use depends on not just how cold the air is, but also how cold the road is.

"Even in direct sunlight it still retains a lot of cold and that can cause a quicker refreeze," said Winters.

As the temperatures drop like they will later this weekend crews will add chemicals to mix with the salt to form a brine that is more effective.

But the colder the road surface gets, the more crews need to apply. And deciding how much to put down is a delicate balance.

But not every truck can carry the brine and chemical mixtures. Meaning crews have to pick and choose where to apply it. And to make it work in the extreme cold isn't easy.

"Low traffic, very cold temperatures, the salt doesn't work very well at all," said Winters.

And this weekend that is exactly what we are in for.

"It's the one, two punch with the snow first and then the wind, which is going to blow and drift the snow and then the cold, which is just going to make it feel like it did earlier this month," said Tasos Kallas with the National Weather Service in Ashwaubenon.

And as the conditions change, so do the plowing and salting techniques. All with one goal in mind.

"Make it safer, keep people on the road instead of in the ditch," said Winters.

And at least some people like Josh Toonen of Greenville won't take any chances.

"I'm probably going to stay in for most of it and try not to drive if I don't have to."

Winters says his crews will also be in Friday and Saturday to get as much of the new snow as possible off the roads before the cold snap returns.