Salt & The Environment
The snow removal industry plays a very important role in keeping people safe throughout the winter season; be it on roadways, driveways, walkways or parking lots.
Unfortunately, as with many other industries, there is an environmental impact to be considered as well.
Rock salt (NaCl) is by far the most commonly used de-icing product due to its relatively inexpensive cost and ease of application. Alternative de-icers can be prohibitively expensive, thereby reducing their use in most cases.
The use of rock salt, and other chloride-based products, can have a significant impact on the environment, especially when used carelessly or over-applied.
The components of the environment that salt can potentially harm include:
- Streams and aquatic life
Road / rock salt has been entering the environment in large amounts and is posing a risk.
Managing salt use through reduced application rates, lower plow-depth thresholds and the use of liquid brines and “treated salt” can reduce salt’s impact dramatically.
By preventing / reducing the amount of salt that is lost to the environment through surface run-off, its negative impact can be limited, while still providing safe surfaces for pedestrians and vehicles. Being aware of the environmental impact of chloride use is just the beginning. Actions taken to reduce the amount of salt that gets into the environment are varied, such as:
- Calibrating spreaders to prevent over-application
- Trained operators to prevent misuse and over-application
- The use of liquid anti-icing to prevent hard-pack formation which can often require multiple salt applications to get rid of
- Treating salt with liquids (organic-based chlorides) to reduce both the amount used and also improve the retention on treated areas
- Using salt with the right amount at the right time to achieve best results with minimal run-off
- Removing snow from walkways before applying de-icing products to reduce the amount that gets thrown onto the turf & garden areas of properties
MPS is actively engaged and using these strategies as part of our winter snow removal operational plan. Through education, best practices and technological innovation, we strive to reduce the negative impact of salt on the environment.
– Ken Jorgenson
Our Predictions for Winter 2017-2018
What affects Ontario’s Winter Weather?
The winter weather patterns in Southern Ontario are affected by multiple different factors.
- Active weather systems from the U.S.A and Western Canada can track North-East, bringing with them precipitation and changes in temperature.
- When given the right conditions, the surrounding great lakes can produce unpredictable and rapid amounts of lake effect snow.
- The most foreseeable factor that meteorologists use to predict long term weather forecasts, is the presence of El Niño or La Niña, which have large impacts on the polar jet stream.
El Niño and La Niña are complex weather patterns resulting from variations in ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific. Together, they are called ENSO (pronounced “en-so”), which is short for El Niño-Southern Oscillation. El Niño and La Niña are opposite phases of a natural climate pattern and swing back and forth every 3-7 years with their ‘episodes’ typically lasting 9-12 months.
Scientists can often predict the onset of El Niño and La Niña several months to a year in advance, thanks to modern climate models (such as those used by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction) and observation data from the Tropical Pacific Observing System.
Scientists are currently predicting weak La Niña conditions in the equatorial pacific for 2017-2018. Although this may change, if we experience weak La Niña conditions then we can expect a more mild winter.
La Niña is sometimes referred to as the cold phase of ENSO and El Niño as the warm phase of ENSO. These deviations from normal surface temperatures can have large-scale impacts not only on ocean processes, but also on global weather and climate.
La Niña (Spanish for ‘the little girl’) means the appearance of cooler-than-normal waters in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean.
The resulting changes in the subtropical jet stream entering North America contributes to large departures in the location and strength of storm paths.
In Canada, climatic anomalies during the winter months caused by La Niña result in:
- Above average precipitation in British Columbia
- Colder-than-normal temperatures in the Prairies
- Above average precipitation in Ontario and Quebec**
The above average precipitation and colder-than-normal temperatures are caused by deviations in the pattern of the polar jet stream. Cold arctic air is brought down to the great-lakes region by the polar jet stream, and as the cold arctic air flows across the warm waters of the great-lakes, it creates the potential conditions for lake effect snow.
The picture below shows the affect that La Niña has on the polar jet stream. The polar jet stream is pushed north over Alaska and then plunges south over Mid-Eastern Canada bringing cold arctic air with it. Southern Ontario will see this temperature change by mid December.
Winter 2017-2018 Predictions
Last year, in Southern Ontario, we saw a warmer-than-normal winter with an average amount of snow. One thing that stood out, to us at MPS, were the exaggerated swings in temperature. These freeze-thaw cycles didn’t allow snow to accumulate like a normal winter and also caused multiple freezing rain events.
For winter 2017-2018, scientists are predicting weak La Niña conditions in the equatorial pacific. Therefore, we can anticipate a more mild winter than originally predicted, since the polar jet stream is more likely to continue in a normal pattern across northern Canada.
If La Niña conditions strengthen, then Ontario can expect colder temperatures brought down from the arctic by the polar jet stream. The images below show what Canada’s winter forecast could look like if we receive a typical La Niña winter. These weather patterns can create cloudier winter conditions and promote significant lake-effect snowfall events.
Although scientists and meteorologists like to estimate and predict the seasonal weather conditions, no one really knows for certain what Mother Nature will throw at us!
Winter 2017-2018, MPS is ready for ya!
– Jenna Monk