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Snow and Ice Control
 
BCEO Snowfighters
 
Overview | Drive Smart, Be Prepared | Snow Plow Driver's Perspective | Treatment Methods | Salt | Salt Brine |
Salt Facts | Calcium Chloride | Local Winter Weather Data, Records, and Historical Tidbits

WINTER 2014-15 Stats as of 10/14/14
Tons of salt spread: 0

Avg winter: 6,200
Avg per storm: 450
Avg per one round of treatment w/ 15 trucks: 225

Gals. salt brine: 0
Gals. beet juice/brine: 0
Gals. calcium chloride: 0
Labor hours: 0
Snow/Ice events: 0
Avg. cost per event: $0
Total cost for season so far:
$0

Budget for avg winter: $1,200,000

Most substantial events:
* none so far

News releases:
* BCEO Prepares for Winter

* 2014 Winter Salt Crisis Roundtable

Previous winter summaries: Click here.

Snowfighters Photo Gallery: Click here

PLEASE READ THE FINE PRINT: The Butler County Engineer's Office treats those roads designated as County roads. The BCEO does not maintain city streets, residential and subdivision streets, interstate, U.S., or state routes. Please contact your local city or township, or the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) for snow removal information on their road systems.

  • For a list of County-maintained roads, click here.
  • To see a map of 2014-15 snow and ice control routes, click here.

GENERAL OVERVIEW

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.BCEO Snow Plow - Click to enlarge.

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 1BCEO salt dome - Click to enlarge.
Loading 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.

Brine storage tank and tank on truck - Click to enlarge.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:

  • 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 roughly $15,000.
  • 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 one supervisor.
  • Average cost per 12-hour shift is $50,000 or $2,085 per hour.

BCEO snow plow - Click to enlarge.DRIVE SMART, BE PREPARED

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 Snow Emergency.

Motorists

MAILBOX DAMAGE

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.

While government 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.

BLOCKED DRIVEWAY

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 driveway.

WHEN CLEARING YOUR DRIVEWAY

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.

are urged to drive wisely and cautiously in all winter weather situations:

  • 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 leaving.
  • 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 the Winter Driving Tips brochure by the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

Additionally, please be especially careful and courteous when driving around salt trucks and snow plows. Remember these tips:

  • 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.

A SNOW PLOW DRIVER'S PERSPECTIVE

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 firsthand.

BCEO snow plow - Click to enlarge.HOW ARE SLIPPERY ROADS TREATED?

Treatment methods include:

  • Salt
  • Salt brine
  • Calcium chloride
  • Anti-skid materials
  • Plowing

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 brine.
  • 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 6,000 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 withApplying salt brine - Click to enlarge. 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 snow.

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
(Courtesy 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.

BCEO calcium storage tanks - Click to enlarge.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 deicing effectiveness.

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 HISTORICAL TIDBITS

Salman RunThanks 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 records)
  • The coldest official temperature ever recorded was -25 degrees F on January 18, 1977. (NWS records)
  • 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.
  • The 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 here.


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