Whether your community gets only 1-inch (2.5 cm) or 24-inches (60 cm) snow can be a major impediment to getting to school, work or even just the grocery. Luckily, we’re always coming up with new ways to live with how snow and ice impact our daily routine. Here’s 10 of the best inventions for dealing with snowfall.
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10. SUGAR BEETS
Who knew you could use beets to get rid of snow? With the price of rock salt rising, many communities have tried mixing sugar beet molasses with brine and calcium chloride to create a brownish, viscous blend. The beet juice is leftover from the process of refining beets for their sugar and pulp. The potassium acetate in the beet juice lowers the freezing point of water in the brine, which prevents ice from bonding to the street. This makes it easier for plows to remove the slurry, saving on both labor and salt costs.
When your community isn’t experimenting with sugar beets or garlic salt, they usually turn to good old rock salt for de-icing the roads after the snow falls. Salt contains sodium and chloride which reacts when mixed with water and oxidizes into air. This helps melt the existing snow and ice, while also acting as an abrasive.
Salt is often distributed by vehicles called “Gritters.” One such vehicle is the “zero velocity salt spreader,” which releases the salt at the same speed the truck is moving. Its “zero velocity” reduces waste since the salt hits the pavement with no momentum.
In addition to getting progressively more expensive, rock salt also damages cars and bridges, while slowly polluting underground water and killing plants. It can also erode the insulation off buried cables, generating a neoprene gas that can collect and potentially explode.
8. ANTI-ICE CHEMICALS
The difference between “anti-icing” and “de-icing” is that the former ideally happens before snow falls. The chemicals used in this process aren’t meant to melt the snow, but rather keep it from bonding to pavement. They’re usually a liquid mixture of brine and chemicals like calcium chloride, magnesium chloride or potassium acetate. Sometimes these chemicals are used for both anti-icing and de-icing. They’re a growing trend with snow management contractors, with sugary liquid products (like beet juice) working better on heavy wet snow, while calcium or magnesium chloride work better on lighter snow.
7. ROAD WEATHER INFORMATION SYSTEMS
Outside of sticking our heads out the door, how do we know when to use all these fancy anti-icing chemicals? Weather monitoring equipment and sensors provide data to something called “environmental sensor stations” (ESS). These stations take into account humidity, precipitation, wind speed and pressure. Combined with the temperature data for the air and pavement, the ESS strategize either an automatic or manual response to inclement weather. For example, the data from Road Weather Information Systems (RWIS) help decide what the anti-icing recipe should be, answering whether we should use more or less sweet beets in our anti-ice cocktails. Systems can even be integrated, so that the RWIS automatically triggers anti-icing devices on roads and bridges, preparing them for the coming snowfall.
6. THE SHOVEL
Sometimes the simplest solution to dealing with snow is the best one. Whether you’re into steel or plastic, curved or uncurved, shovels get the job done. The problem is that if you don’t use them properly you can injure yourself or even have a heart attack. Bend your knees and don’t twist your back. Don’t go trying to impress your neighbor by launching heavy snow piles over your shoulder. Face the pile squarely and then push the shovel forward with both your arms and legs. Always turn your whole body when hefting the snow elsewhere. And take a break every once in awhile. It’s not like you splurged on a snowblower…
5. SNOW BLOWERS
Arthud Sicard was a farmhand in Quebec in 1894. Part of his job was to haul milk 8 kilometers (5 miles) between his farm and the city market. His biggest problem was traversing the snow-covered roads, which often forced him back and made his valuable milk go sour. Looking to his farm’s grain thresher as inspiration, Sicard designed a similar device for snow, using rotary blades, a fan and a chute to clear the road. After 32 years of improving the invention, Sicard finally introduced his “snow blower” to the market and sold it to the town of Outremont. His company still produces these machines today, removing snow from one place to another the easy way.
4. THE ICE PICK
Honestly there isn’t a lot to tell beyond the ice pick’s intended use to chisel away ice. Searching the library yields more results on lobotomies, Sharon Stone and acne than it does eliminating snow and ice. That’s probably because (like shovels) ice picks simply work on elbow grease.
3. SNOW TIRES
You may need to use a shovel or an ice pick to get your car out of the snow, but once you do you’ll want snow tires (or even better, snow chains) to keep it on the road. An organization called the Rubber Manufacturers Association actually sets the guidelines for officially labelled snow tires. These tires ideally require rows of large grooves that start at the tire’s edge and wrap toward its center. Also, if 25% of the tire’s surface area has grooves it will getter better traction in snow. The RMA have another designation for “Severe Snow Use,” where the tire must meet requirements set by the American Society for Testing and Materials that exceed routine tire traction performance.
2. THE SNOW PLOW
The original plows were pulled in Egypt and Sumeria by workers and oxen. When dealing with snow, today we hook them up to winter service vehicles, or even the front of our personal trucks. The right kind of plow can improve efficiency and expenses. Large plows may remove more snow, while smaller plows are more precise. How the plow is hitched to the vehicle is important too, as manual adjustments are time-consuming, especially when compared to the newer drop-and-go designs.
Snowmelters are machines that can thaw tons of snow. They’re fast, better for the local environment and are mostly seen in big cities with high real estate prices. This is likely to get rid of unseemly snowdrifts and the potential environmental damage of salt and anti-ice chemicals. Snowmelters work through combustion technology that creates an internal hot water tank from the snow. The water is then released by pipe into the local sewer.