The Science Behind Melting Snow

By: Amelia Nahmias Email
By: Amelia Nahmias Email

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- As the snow tapers off, the slush will turn into ice, which could stay through the end of the week. However, there are some things we can do to keep our footing, and the answers may be right in your kitchen cupboard.

Alan Martin lives in Harrisonburg and clears the sidewalks for his neighbors.

"Right after it snows, I generally just push it off. Then I apply the salt to it to keep it from getting slippery," said Martin.

He is careful what he uses and said his salt is the safest.

"The wrong kinds of salt could destroy the grass around the sidewalk and be dangerous in other ways too," said Martin.

Dr. Scott Lewis, a chemistry professor at JMU, said the word brine is a general term for salt dissolved in water, which is what is most commonly used on the roads.

"They make a brine solution on the surface of the road and don't allow anymore snow or ice to accumulate on the road," said Lewis.

Lewis said anything that dissolves in water, such as sugar, changes the chemical composition of water, which changes the temperatures at which it freezes; however, not all combinations work the same.

"The most effective is calcium chloride. It actually works down to about minus 20 degrees. But it's a whole lot more expensive, so most people don't want to buy it. They'll but regular table salt, rock salt," said Lewis.

Regular rock salt works to only about 25 degrees, a problem Martin faces.

"When it get really cold, I guess it doesn't get the freezing temperature down low enough, and it will freeze up," said Martin.

One way to melt ice is to use beet juice, but you have to be careful about bringing it inside as it may stain your carpets.


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