Snow and ice control
is one of the most significant winter activities performed by
BCEO road crews, especially during a rough winter. The Butler
County Engineer's Office is responsible for keeping 266 centerline
miles of County roads safe and passable whenever winter weather
strikes. More importantly, the 266 mile figure becomes 607 actual
lane miles when turn lanes and three, four, and five lane roads
are factored into the equation. Our crews work hard day and night
to treat the roads even in the worst weather conditions --- blinding
snow, crippling ice, sub-zero temperatures --- often sacrificing
time away from their families on weekends and holidays.
These winter warriors
prepare for each snow season beginning in October with a week
of extensive safety training, plus equipment and maintenance
reviews. All drivers review plow blade replacement, calcium fill
procedures with gloves and mask, tire chain utilization, and
emergency procedures for a stuck vehicle or an accident. Additional
driver training includes a detailed safety inspection and driving
actual assigned routes. Many drivers retain the same route from
one winter to the next but driving them before winter arrives
helps our crews become even more familiar with their routes.
This is particularly important when snow is deep and drifted.
Knowing the roads and all landmarks is critical when it is impossible
to distinguish where the road is located.
When winter storms
become imminent, BCEO personnel carefully monitor the storm's
movement on radar. A new weather monitoring system now provides
more detailed tracking of ground conditions and approaching storms.
This new technology enables us to quickly mobilize our crews
and equipment, thereby minimizing response times.
A new salt barn was
completed in 1999, improving snow and ice control efficiency.
The new storage facility, located on the grounds of the Engineer's
Office, holds 6,500 tons of salt. Heading into the winter of
2011-12, a second 6,500 ton salt barn was constructed, doubling
the BCEO's storage capacity. This will significantly reduce the
risk of running out of salt during severe weather events. Nationwide
salt shortages have been a recurring problem during harsh winters
when salt demand runs high. Delivery issues can also crop up
like they did in 1994 when the Ohio River froze preventing salt
barges from being able to reach the Port of Cincinnati.
Loading the dome with salt - Photo 1
the dome with salt - Photo 2
BCEO Snowfighters work
12-hour shifts to keep roads clear by salting or plowing, depending
upon current conditions. Fifteen snow and ice control routes
ensure that every County road is treated quickly and efficiently.
Preceding the 1999-2000 season, the Engineer's Office introduced
to its fleet a new truck that
is capable of multi-lane plowing. Utilized mainly in the heavily
populated southeastern townships, this
truck is outfitted with two blades and is capable of handling
two lanes in one pass. Four new
trucks were added to the fleet for the winter of 2002-2003,
four more in late 2005, and
six in 2008. These state-of-the
art snow plows have many new safety features and are more
cost-efficient to operate. For an overview of the new trucks
and their benefits to Butler County, click here.
The 2003-2004 winter season
saw the addition of a new salt brine production system to pre-treat
winter roads. The application of salt brine before snow begins
to fall helps prevent the bonding of snow and ice to pavements.
Click here to read more and
see pictures of this new system.
Routing is determined
by a computerized system which takes several factors into account
when configuring the most efficient routes for Butler County's
salt trucks --- lane miles covered, speed limits, spread rates,
plus any load limitations on bridges. All newer trucks use state-of-the-art
technology, and our drivers are specially trained to meet the
unique demands of each winter storm.
Here are some quick
facts about BCEO snow and ice control operations:
DRIVE SMART, BE PREPARED
- We utilize 15 trucks.
Each holds 12-15 tons of salt and 218 gallons of calcium.
- Each truck carries
$1,000 worth of material when full.
- One full round of
treatments with 15 trucks uses about 225 tons of salt costing
- Salt is spread at
a rate of 400 pounds per lane mile.
- There are five backup
trucks in case of breakdowns or equipment failure.
- We have two snow and
ice control teams that work 12-hour shifts. Each team includes
15 plow drivers, one mechanic, one salt loader operator, and
- Average cost per 12-hour
shift is $50,000 or $2,085 per hour.
Severe, crippling snowstorms,
although rare, do occur here in southwest Ohio. The area is also
prone to occasional ice storms which can be treacherous and sometimes
deadly; however, more typical are the light to moderate snows
in the one to six inch range that fall and make road surfaces
hazardous just the same --- perhaps more so because many motorists
don't treat these conditions as seriously.
When heavy snow or
ice does occur, a Snow Emergency may be declared necessitating
limited or restricted driving conditions. Motorists can check
this web site for Snow Emergency postings, reports on local and
statewide road conditions, plus links to forecasts and radar.
Please see the Road Conditions page.
For a complete overview of Snow Emergency classifications, see
are urged to drive
wisely and cautiously in all winter weather situations:
Mailboxes are sometimes
damaged when plowing occurs. On most occasions, they are knocked
down NOT by the plow itself, but by the force of the snow as
it is being pushed aside. However, most mailboxes, if sturdy
and properly installed, will withstand this force.
agencies are not required to replace damaged mailboxes that sit
on public right-of-way, the BCEO does choose to replace mailboxes
as a courtesy. Re-application of lettering and numbers is the
responsibility of the homeowner.
The BCEO offers this
tip for diminishing the impact of your driveway being blocked
by snow pushed aside by a plow:
When clearing your
driveway, try to pile the snow to the left side as you face your
house, specifically when clearing near the road. This will prevent
the plow blade from dragging the pile across the front of your
Remember, do not
push snow into the road. Doing so can constitute obstruction
of the roadway and be dangerous to motorists. Please, do not
push snow into the road.
- Have your vehicle
winterized and store blankets and other supplies in your vehicle
in the event that you should become stranded.
- Clear all snow and
ice from mirrors, windows, headlights, and taillights before
- Reduce your speed
and leave early, planning your route to avoid steep upgrades
and lightly-traveled roads where deep drifts may have formed.
- Drive with your headlights
on low beam.
- Use caution on bridges
and overpasses, as they freeze more quickly than roadway surfaces.
- Watch for black ice,
which is a thin transparent layer of ice on roadways that is
extremely slippery and hard to spot.
- For more tips, download
Driving Tips brochure by the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
be especially careful and courteous when driving around salt
trucks and snow plows. Remember these tips:
A SNOW PLOW DRIVER'S PERSPECTIVE
- Don't pass a snow
plow unless absolutely necessary.
- Don't assume the snow
plow operator can see you. Every truck has blind spots which
reduce side and rear visibility.
- Allow plenty of stopping
distance; don't follow too closely. This also reduces the chance
of loose material hitting your vehicle.
- Keep your headlights
on low beam.
- Slow down.
BCEO crews are sometimes
asked which they prefer --- treating roads in heavily developed
locations such as West Chester Township or out in the remote
and hilly areas north and west of the Great Miami River. There
are advantages and disadvantages to each, according to Allen
Drake and Wayne Verling, who work the west and east sides of
the County respectively. "The traffic in West Chester Township
can make your job more difficult, but the roads are more defined
and easier to see because everything is so built up," says
Verling. However, Drake notes that the rural roads on the other
side of the County carry less traffic which makes them easier
to plow, but the drifting is usually more extensive and the edges
of the roads can be harder to find. "It can be kind of scary.
You have to be very familiar with your route, know your roads,
ditch lines, and any and all landmarks, even certain trees, poles,
and mailboxes to help guide you."
For an idea of what
some of our snow plow drivers encounter, click on the images
located in our Snowfighters
Photo Gallery. See what these winter warriors experience
HOW ARE SLIPPERY ROADS TREATED?
Treatment methods include:
- Salt brine
- Calcium chloride
- Beet juice / brine
- Anti-skid materials
All of these methods
are utilized, sometimes in different combinations, depending
on the type of road and current weather conditions. Salt is used
to melt the snow or ice. Brine is applied to roadways before
snow begins to fall to help prevent the bonding of snow and ice
to pavements. Liquid calcium chloride is mixed with salt when
temperatures drop below 25 degrees Fahrenheit to increase the
salt's melting effectiveness. Anti-skid materials help provide
traction and can be sand or fine stone, sometimes referred to
as grits. Plowing is utilized when snow becomes too deep for
salt granules to effectively penetrate.
- Pre-treating -- Salt
- Above 25 degrees F
-- Salt granules.
- 15 to 25 degrees F
-- Salt with calcium chloride.
- +5 to 15 degrees F
-- 50/50 salt and grit mixture sprayed with calcium chloride.
- -5 to +5 degrees F
-- Grits and 20 gallons of calcium chloride per ton of grits.
- Below -5 degrees F
-- Straight grits, some calcium chloride.
- Dry, blowing snow
-- Plow and/or salt.
- Persistent heavy,
wet snowfall -- Plow and salt.
- Drifting -- Plow only.
When snowfall is heavy
enough to require plowing, the time needed to complete a route
can nearly double. For straight salting, it is only necessary
to drive in one direction to salt two lanes; however, a driver
must make two passes over the same road in order to plow each
lane while applying salt on the second pass.
WHY SALT AND HOW MUCH?
The BCEO utilizes approximately
6,200 tons of salt in an average Butler County winter and we
begin each snow season with a nearly full salt dome, which holds
a maximum of 6,500 tons. A salt truck is loaded with about 12-15
tons of salt, or about $1,000 worth of salt, depending on the
size of the dump bed, with spread rates of about 400 pounds per
lane mile of roadway. Every time all 15 trucks go out they collectively
take about 225 tons of salt, or roughly $15,000 worth of salt.
An average storm usually requires a couple rounds of treatments.
Salt is effective for
melting snow and ice because the chemical properties of the salt
lower the freezing point of water. However, the colder it gets,
the more salt is required to melt snow and ice. This is because
salt begins to lose its effectiveness as temperatures drop below
25 degrees Fahrenheit. The loss becomes increasingly more substantial
below 20 degrees F. At 30 degrees F one pound of salt will melt
46.3 pounds of ice; at 0 degrees F one pound of salt will melt
only 3.7 pounds of ice.
Calcium chloride is
mixed with salt in colder temperatures to increase the salt's
melting ability. (See Calcium Chloride
below.) Direct sunlight and traffic also help salt work better.
Heavily traveled roads may often become more slushy and clear
sooner than lesser traveled roads in rural areas.
PRE-TREATING WITH SALT BRINE
Salt brine is a salt
and water mix that is applied to roadway surfaces before snow
begins to fall. Often seen as a series of fuzzy white lines on
the road, this liquid brine solution helps prevent the bonding
of snow and ice to pavements. Pre-treating Butler County's roads
with brine before a snow storm helps melt
the snow and ice as it hits the roadway surface which reduces
immediate accumulations and allows crews to get a jump on the
Salt brine is very
cost-efficient since less salt is utilized and pre-wetting with
brine makes subsequent applications of granular salt work more
effectively. And because it can be applied many hours, even days,
before winter weather strikes, BCEO crews can pre-treat during
normal hours which saves on overtime costs.
For a complete overview
of salt brine pre-treatment, how the BCEO's brine production
system works, and photos, click here
to read our news release.
- SOME SALT FACTS
of the Salt Institute)
- Salt was first used
for snow and ice control in the 1940s, but its use didn't become
widespread until the 1960s.
- Salt is used as the
principle deicer because it is the most readily available and
least expensive deicer.
- Salt is non-toxic
and harmless to skin and clothing.
- When handled and stored
properly, salt is harmless to the environment.
- Salt trucks spread
500-700 pounds of salt per mile of two-lane pavement.
- 500 pounds of salt
will release enough brine to keep snow and ice from bonding to
one mile of two-lane pavement.
- 1/4 inch of ice on
a mile of pavement weighs 70 tons.
- Over 10 million tons
of salt are used each year in the USA and 3 million tons in Canada.
- CALCIUM CHLORIDE
- (Calcium info
courtesy of Dow Chemical USA)
Because salt becomes
substantially less effective below 20 degrees F, calcium chloride
is used to improve its effectiveness in colder temperatures.
The liquid calcium is sprayed onto the salt granules before they
reach the spinner on the back of the truck.
Calcium chloride works by attracting
moisture and releasing heat. When mixed with salt, it melts up
to eight times as much ice as using salt alone at 20 degrees.
This in turn improves the efficiency of salting operations, requiring
less labor and less equipment wear.
Technically, rock salt
and calcium chloride are similar chemicals with different characteristics.
Ordinary rock salt (sodium chloride --- chemical symbol NaCl)
and calcium chloride (CaCl2) can be chemically described
as salts of strong acids and strong bases. Fortunately for snow
and ice control personnel, rock salt and calcium chloride are
complimentary in their chemical characteristics, and combining
these two materials in various ways can save money while increasing
Calcium chloride has
greater ability to melt through ice and break the ice-to-pavement
bond. Under actual winter conditions it will perform well at
temperatures down to about -30 degrees Fahrenheit.
LOCAL WINTER WEATHER DATA, RECORDS, AND
Thanks to the National Weather Service,
Wilmington, Ohio for contributing to the information below.
- BCEO Snowfighters
photo library: Click here.
- Butler County's average
annual snowfall is 24 inches. This compares with 80-100 inches
per year in Ohio's snow belt along Lake Erie, 250 miles to our
northeast; and, 10 inches per year in Nashville, Tennessee, 250
miles to our southwest.
- The snowiest winter
on record was 1977-78 when the official Cincinnati snowfall measured
53.9 inches. Dayton's official snowfall that winter was 62.7
inches. The second snowiest was the winter of 1849-50 when a
total of 50 inches fell at Cincinnati. The third snowiest winter
was 2013-14 with 47.5 inches. The fourth was 1976-77 with 47.3
inches. Fifth was 1950-51 with 46.3 inches. Sixth was 1995-96
with 44.6 inches. Seventh was 2009-10 with 38.4 inches. (NWS
- The coldest official
temperature ever recorded was -25 degrees F on January 18, 1977.
- The earliest date
BCEO snow and ice control crews were ever pressed into service
was October 19, 1989 when parts of southwest Ohio were blanketed
with 5-6 inches of snow. This rare, early autumn snow began as
rain, then quickly changed to snow overnight and was accompanied
by frequent lightning that cast eerie blue and orange glows through
the falling snow. Since most of the summer foliage had not yet
dropped, numerous trees fell under the weight of the heavy, wet
snow causing widespread power outages.
- BCEO crews worked
around the clock non-stop to keep roads clear for almost two
straight weeks in early January 1999 when an unrelenting onslaught
of snow and ice storms gripped the Tri-State area.
- One of the biggest
snow storms to strike the area occurred February 4-5, 1998 when
a very localized band of heavy snow dumped 18.8 inches in Cincinnati.
Amounts just to the north in Butler County were actually less,
with a foot reported in the southern part of the County and six
to eight inches in northern townships.
most severe winter storm to ever strike southwest Ohio was the
"Blizzard of '78." It stands out as the exclamation
point in a series of unusually cold and snowy winters during
the late 1970s. Compared by some to an inland hurricane, this
surprise storm of unprecedented magnitude is notable not so much
for the amount of snow it dropped, but for its unrelenting intensity.
What began as a moderate rain on the night of January 25, 1978
quickly gave way to increasing winds and rapidly falling temperatures.
As the rain turned to snow just after midnight, sustained winds
of 60-70 miles per hour and gusts over 100 mph blew the heavy
snow horizontally, reducing visibility to zero for the next six
to eight hours. The barometric pressure reached an all-time record
low -- 28.81" -- as the blizzard dropped a foot of snow
on Butler County before moving on. Drifts made many roads impassable
and some communities were completely cut off -- reachable only
by air. Road crews were forced to utilize unconventional methods
of snow removal such as front-end loaders and bulldozers. Due
to significant accumulations already on the ground from prior
snowstorms, there was no room to push snow aside in many cases,
so it had to be trucked away.
- For a complete summary,
please read Meteorological review of the '78 Blizzard.
- For After the Blizzard
photos from the BCEO archives, click