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How Do Overnight Freezing Temperatures Affect Dispatch?: A Scientific Discussion

As temperatures drop below freezing, many wonder how this affects the beloved businesses that are in charge of keeping their lawns clear of snow. We at Snow Scholars like to dabble in science. The process for snow turning icy starts when temperatures creep toward above freezing (32°F), and the snow melts partially. Then, once the temperatures drop below freezing, that melted snow can turn into ice. When ice forms, contrary to popular belief, it's actually expanding, and water is more dense. In turn, the ice floats to the top and creates a dangerous situation. 

We’re not keen on fear tactics, but we do want you to be informed on some important statistics related to icy conditions. According to the CDC, around 1 million Americans are injured annually due to falling on ice and snow. Unfortunately, that results in 17,000 annual deaths every year (CDC, 2023). Those over the age of 65 years old are most at risk for ice-related injuries. While their younger-counterparts might gain a nasty bruise, elderly folks are at risk for broken hips, head injuries, and other life-threatening injuries. If you or an elderly loved one has fallen, please visit your local urgent care clinic. Most minor injuries can be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). If your pain becomes ongoing, contact your primary care provider for medical advice (Medical College of Wisconsin, 2022). 

How can we prevent this from happening in the first place? Snow Scholars has the solution for you. We are sure to clear snow, salt, and sand to prevent ice formation. These proven effective methods are the best way to protect your space from developing ice. Snow Scholars meticulously pays attention to weather patterns. If there was a recent snowfall and we determine that temperatures are rising toward above freezing, we anticipate that the snow will melt. Therefore, we deploy our team right away to clear areas to prevent the formation of ice, before it gets to the stage where temperatures drop and it can form. 

Sand and salt are great tools to use during the winter season to combat ice and snow. But have you ever wondered how they work? If they are sustainable? Let’s discuss. Water molecules bond together and this compaction forms ice. Sand works because the grains in the sand make it difficult for the water molecules to bond together and this prevents the formation of ice. It’s important to note that it does not melt existing ice, it just stops new ice from forming. Sand can also be utilized to allow cars to drive more safely on roads. The sand increases the friction for car tires, making it less slippery to drive. Alternatives may damage your plants and concrete, but sand is natural and won’t pose that risk. Salt on the other hand, composed of sodium chloride, lowers the freezing point of water causing ice to melt even when it’s below its normal freezing temperature (32°F). Sodium chloride dissolves into separate sodium and chloride ions that disturb the bonds between water molecules (H20). The ions loosen hydrogen bonds and the ice melts down to water (Scientific American, 2022). While effective at melting ice, road salt through runoff can contaminate drinking water. It also endangers wildlife and can increase soil erosion. Salinification (the increase of salt) affects how plants absorb their most essential macronutrient, nitrogen, that is imperative for growth. Raising salinity can also kill any sea life in nearby lakes by causing dehydration. Not to mention, it can hurt our furry friends. Salt can get wedged into some dog’s paws and cause irritation. This is not to say that there is not an appropriate time and place for salt, especially to prevent dangerous situations. Snow Scholars is committed to using salt sparingly, but when necessary to keep you and the environment safe. As a benchmark, around 12 ounces of salt should be used for a 20 ft long driveway. Our team members are educated on the appropriate salt to pavement ratios. 

The salt debate inspired folks across the Midwest to increase education on its pros and cons. Salt Wise is a coalition of organizations from Wisconsin that work together to reduce salt pollution in the lakes, streams and drinking water. They have encouraged businesses to reduce their salt distribution by up to 60%. On their website, they have multiple ways you can get involved to help reduce salt distribution:

In Minnesota, Smart Salt Training offers training events to educate the public on the consequences of salt and encourage businesses and homeowners to reduce their salt usage. From their website, they pledge you will learn: 

  • the environmental impacts of chloride and chloride requirements in the 2020 MS4 permit

  • best management practices for (BMPs) for storing materials 

  • how to calibrate equipment, use weather condition info more efficiently, set application rates 

  • best practices for plowing , physical removal, de-icing and anti-icing 

  • regulatory issues and managing liability 

  • available educational resources for customers and staff

  • what educational resources are available to customers and staff

Once you’ve completed your training, you are considered certified as a Smart Salter. 

Snow Scholars employs multiple tactics like sand, salt, and clearing to prevent or get rid of ice. We recognize that attacking this issue from a holistic standpoint and from multiple directions is the best way to mitigate ice. While balancing keeping you safe and protecting the environment, Snow Scholars has thought out their tactics and their repercussions. Be able to walk down your driveway confidently with our help this winter season. 

~ Nina Petrosino, Snow Scholar Writer

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