Dropping the freezing point with salt to drive safely in winter weather

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The Ohio Department of Transportation uses an average 600,000 tons of salt to maintain 43,000 miles of highways and interstates across Ohio.

ODOT public information officer, Mandi Dillon said crews start preparing for winter in October.

“Our crews are used to all the different seasons,” Dillon said. “Ohio can be kind of tricky because you never know what you’re going to get in what month. We try to typically do our operational readiness events in early fall just in case we get that early storm.”

Dillon said every storm is different, but crews usually start treating the roads with brine first.

“If we do have rain or something in the forecast then we won’t do that because it will simply wash that mixture off,” Dillon said.

Brine is approximately 23% salt and 77% water. According to the Ohio Local Technical Assistance Program, the freezing point is –6° F in a mixture of 23.3%.

“The salt melts the snow and the ice. So that’s the whole idea. If we can put that salt down it’s going to help,” Dillon said.

After 15 minutes in the freezer an ice cube will start to freeze. If you add salt, it will still be a liquid.

A weather experiment uses ice, salt, and an aluminum can to create frost.

The ice will lower the melting point of the water. This will also lower the temperature of the air around the can. Any moisture that condenses on the can will freeze.

For the next four months, the average low temperature is below freezing. This provides many opportunities for water to freeze on the roads. ODOT is working to prevent that from happening.

“It’s important to our crews because our crews live in these areas. They have family and friends that travel these roads. They just want to make sure that these roads are safe for everyone,” Dillon said.

She encourages everyone to take it slow and avoid driving too close to a plow.

“People have a tendency to want to get behind that snowplow. It makes them feel safe, but we want to make sure that they’re staying a good distance behind the plow because there’s a lot going on behind that plow,” Dillon said. “We don’t want anyone to get hurt. We also just want to make sure our drivers are staying safe too.”

Dillon said there are a few extra steps to protect the drivers this year.

“With the pandemic, we are taking some extra precautions to make sure we’re cleaning out the equipment and those trucks in between drivers,” Dillon said. “We want to make sure that everyone stays safe.”  

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