A History of Snow Removal
The latest and greatest in snow removal technology is always a topic of great interest for our industry. The newest equipment, with sectional wing plows or containment blades, heated pavement & snow melting machines, and various options for liquid and blended de-icing / anti-icing products are always front and center at trade shows and industry events. Technologies such as GPS tracking and meteorological weather prediction apps abound.
Little thought or consideration is given to the pioneers of our Snow & Ice industry, however, and the many advances that were made to get us to this point.
For most of our history, getting rid of the snow that fell in our towns and villages was nothing much to be concerned about. In fact, snow on the ground was often an asset for getting around with “roads” becoming more passable for horse carts and carriages with packed snow underfoot.
The first snow clearing machines (aside from the shovel) were actually giant snow rollers – basically just a large, wide wheel, weighted down with rocks and pulled by a team of horses or oxen! These contraptions just packed the snow down into a dense trackway, and that was that.
By the middle of the 1800’s, horse-drawn “wedge” plows were invented to clear snow. It was hard work for the animals, and often left large piles of snow blocking side streets and alleyways, so different versions of horse-drawn “scoop” plows came into existence for these areas that saw more foot traffic than carriages.
In the late 19th century, J.W. Elliot, a Toronto dentist, designed a “rotary snow plow”, essentially the forerunner of the modern snow blower. This machine had a rotary engine that drove a wheel rimmed with flat blades. As the “plow” went forward, snow collected in the housing compartment, got funneled up to the blades, which then tossed the snow out through an opening on the top of the housing. Sounds familiar right, but this invention was 15 feet tall and designed to be placed on the front of a train engine, throwing the snow up to 200 feet away. I’d be interested in seeing any of his inventions for the dental industry too!
Over the ensuing decades, “snow blowers” got smaller, cheaper and easier to use. Eventually human-controlled versions became commonplace for the residential home market, and are now seen everywhere today, usually on your neighbor’s driveway while you are holding a shovel.
As cars & trucks replaced horses and carriages on roads and in cities in the 1920’s, they began to require drier and safer streets, and for snow piles to be hauled away and dumped in fields or on frozen rivers. Motorized salt spreading machines were invented, along with car or truck-mounted snow plows, which could clear streets much faster than horse-drawn plows.
The basic design and technology was now in place for development and innovation over the years and decades. Larger machinery, such as loaders & tractors, were incorporated and greatly advanced the speed of snow removal services, as they could clear significantly more snow in much less time. The snow plow “blade” itself also evolved in different ways depending on if it was designed for highway use, residential streets or the onset of the new “parking lots”.
Perhaps one of the most important innovations for the Snow & Ice industry occurred in 1959, when “space-age” technology entered the fray. Satellite information allowed for better weather and storm forecasting, and quicker preparation for those with their feet (and snow plows) firmly planted on the Earth.
In many ways, not much has changed fundamentally since the late 1800’s; it has been the continual innovation and improvement of the basic existing designs that now clear our driveways, roads and parking lots today.
– Ken Jorgenson
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
What is “salt”, and how does it work?
There are a lot of misconceptions in the Snow & Ice industry about salt, salt use and the “Science of Salt” itself, which can often lead to its misuse or misapplication.
Snow & Ice Industry
The type of salt used in the snow & ice industry is commonly known as rock salt, which is a naturally occurring mineral form of sodium chloride (NaCl). This crystalline form of NaCl is mined from underground salt beds, the result of dried up enclosed lakes or inland seas.
We all know that salt is used to melt snow and ice, but this, technically is not exactly true. The solid granules (or crystals) of rock salt do not actually effect the melting process. Salt is a hydroscopic material, which means that it will attract water and heat from its environment. That is why your leather shoes get “dried out” and wrinkled when covered with salt.
This type of reaction is known as an Endothermic Reaction, which is a chemical reaction that absorbs heat. Salt absorbs heat, but in doing so reduces its effective operating temperature.
A chemical reaction that gives off heat is called an Exothermic Reaction. Magnesium Chloride (MgCl2) or Calcium Chloride (CaCl) gives off heat when used, making them less reliant on air temperature and thus able to work at a lower range. Their costs, however, are significantly higher as well.
How does “salt” melt snow and ice?
Salt actually works by forming a brine solution and reducing the Freeze Point of water. This happens in the following way:
- The rock salt crystals attract water from the surrounding snow, ice, freezing rain or meltwater
- The salt slowly dissolves and forms a “brine” solution which breaks the bond between the snow or ice and the pavement
- The brine also lowers the freeze point of water from 0ºC to about -9ºC, which is the “effective working temperature” of salt
- This results in the snow & ice returning to liquid form, or “melting” (in low accumulations) or allowing the plow to clear the snow more effectively for deeper amounts
- Eventually, the salt crystals in “solution” will dissolve and no longer be effective
- Untreated salt is not very effective below this temperature (-9ºC)
- A salt brine solution of 23.3% is the most effective formulation and will work to -21ºC in laboratory conditions, but not in the “real” world
- Treating salt with organic-based chlorides (MgCl2 or CaCl) can reduce the effective working temperature of salt to as low as -30ºC
What effects the efficiency of “salt”?
In non-laboratory conditions, certain factors can have a large influence on salt’s effectiveness.
Ground temperature for instance, air temperature, the type of “pavement” , and water content of the snow can all effect the efficiency of rock salt. Even exposure to direct sunlight (thermal energy) or heat from underground parking lots can play a role. This is why having a number of options for treating snow & ice under various conditions is important for effective management of hazardous winter conditions.
– Ken Jorgenson
How to Best Prepare your Commercial Property for Severe Winter Weather Events
When severe winter weather is in the forecast, both snow & ice management contractors and property owners/managers need to be on the same page in order to reduce potential risk and liability.
Prolonged freezing rain events, or two-day “blizzards” with crippling wind and snowfall amounts, can prove costly in both human terms and financial costs. In either case, the damage can be as severe as the weather itself.
Awareness and the cooperative exchange of planning information are two of the most crucial steps required for snow contractors and property owners/managers to literally “weather the storm” successfully.
When these types of severe weather events are expected, MPS Property Services will provide our customers with an e-mail communication detailing both an assessment of the incoming weather and our operational plan to effectively manage the storm. Information such as the expected timing of the “event” and our operational response(s) are vital for minimizing any potential property damage, slip & fall or productivity risks. By providing our clients with this advance information, we hope to improve their knowledge of “snow fighting” strategies and help manage their expectations over the course of the storm.
Best Practices for Property Owners & Managers
We also hope to assist property owners & managers in communicating some best practices for dealing with severe weather, with their “people” on-site, ahead of the storm event.
This can include:
- Posting information, or using other means to notify employees, customers, visitors and any other workplace parties of the impending severe weather system, its probable timing, and how the property will be affected during the storm
- Providing information about what proper clothing to wear throughout the storm, such as treaded footwear, to reduce slip & fall risk
- Blocking off snow depot areas, or adjusting parking allocation so that plow vehicles have room to move & place snow during daytime plowing operations
- Having any appropriate staff work from home if possible to reduce the amount of traffic impeding snow response teams both on-site and on the public roadways
- Coordinating with MPS in advance to schedule the removal of any expected excess snow to recover lost parking or shipping areas as fast as possible
- Coordinating with MPS to ensure that any on-site salt bins, etc. are fully stocked and ready for use by building personnel as needed
- Understanding that site conditions may be hazardous at times throughout the severe weather event but will be cleaned up and made safe quickly after the system has moved on
Severe winter weather can be extremely frustrating, dangerous and difficult to manage. By having the snow & ice management contractor and the property owner/manager communicate effectively ahead of the storm, throughout its duration, and immediately after it has moved on, the destructive impacts on personal well-being, property damage and business continuity can be minimized. Informational awareness and planning truly are the first important step in successfully managing severe winter weather events.
Choosing the right Snow & Ice Management company to provide winter service for your property is often a difficult choice to make. After all, no two companies are created equally! Find out the ‘Dos and Don’ts’ of commercial winter contracts HERE
– Ken Jorgenson
Fall Yard Clean-Ups: Getting your Property Prepared & Ready for Winter
Despite our recent run of (finally!) “summer-like” temperatures and sunshine, the reality is that winter is just around the corner. This means that cold, snowy, blustery weather will be here before we know it. While the cooler winter weather can be a good excuse to wrap up warm and stay indoors, as a property owner or facility manager, you must be aware of how it can take a toll on your property’s condition and potentially create long term maintenance headaches.
There’s a lot to do to get ready! To make sure your home, building or properties are ready for winter, there are definitely some maintenance tasks that you should carry out, before the weather turns cold for good.
Have a Complete Fall Clean-Up Done
- Rake the leaves: Dead leaves can interfere with your lawn’s ability to prepare itself for winter. Removing or mulching removes the leaves while allowing the spread of nutrients.
- Fertilize: Your lawn’s final feeding is an important one. Fertilizing with a special autumn blend of nutrients helps grass roots stay strong and nourished throughout the winter.
- Get a jump-start on your spring planting: Planting bulbs before the ground freezes can be great for growth when spring returns. Daffodils, hyacinth, tulips, and other flowers are excellent candidates for fall planting.
- Clean out your gardens: If annuals are just left to die in your garden, you’re inviting trouble. Insects and other pests love to lay eggs in decayed plants. Don’t let them get a foothold; make sure your gardens are clean and clear.
- Trim your trees. Trees with old, worn, or weak branches should be trimmed, especially those that hang over top of roofs and outbuildings. Branches can easily break under the weight of snow, and they can cause major damage to anything in their path.
- Wrap with Burlap any shrubs or trees that require additional protection from the cold and damaging winds of winter in order to prevent die-off of expensive greenery
Clear out your gutters and check for Leaks
Autumn leaves can drop off surrounding trees and block your gutters and drains. This in turn increases the chance of flooding and damage to your roof. If the weather gets really cold, water trapped by leaves can freeze, causing potential leaks and other problems. Leaky downspouts or gutters can cause ice buildup on walkway areas with the freeze-thaw cycles we encounter each winter.
Check your heating system
Before it gets really cold is the time to look at your heating system and check it’s all in good working order. Not only will it work better, you’ll be able to catch any minor issues before they become bigger, more expensive ones. A well maintained heating system will also be more power efficient, helping you keep your winter electricity costs under control.
Does Your Property Have an Irrigation System?
Many residential and commercial properties have built-in irrigation systems. When the weather turns cold, it’s essential to have your sprinkler system properly drained and blown out with compressed air. This ensures that any trapped water will drain, reducing your chances of suffering a pipe burst.
It isn’t a good idea to perform irrigation system shut-downs and repairs without training. These tasks require advanced knowledge of system design and engineering, and even a small mistake can cause major damage. To avoid these risks, we recommend scheduling a proper shut-down with a proven service provider.
You don’t want to be dealing with problems when spring returns, so make sure your system is “winterized” and in good condition before the arrival of sub-zero temperatures.
Check seals on doors and windows
The seals around your doors and windows can deteriorate over time and if they aren’t in good condition, they may not work at keeping cold air out. Drafts and cold air coming in will increase your power costs, as your heating system will need to work harder to compensate.
Check your outdoor lighting
The longer winter nights mean that your house guests, employees and customers may well be entering and leaving your building in poor light or even darkness. Now is the time to check your lights work and replace or fix any bulbs that are broken.
Specific to Commercial Properties
Check your Parking Lots and Walkways
All lots and walkways should be thoroughly inspected for hazards and existing damage before the first snowfall. When having a look, check for potholes, cracks and uneven pavement. These should be repaired before winter arrives to help reduce the likelihood of a trip & fall accident or water-pooling that can freeze-up and result in a slip & fall incident.
Upgrade your Lights, Stripes and Signs
Darkness falls early during the winter, and making sure your business is well-lit improves safety as well as visibility to customers. Parking lot striping and pavement markings should be refreshed to help guide vehicles along safely, and all walkways should have ample lighting.
Don’t leave it too late to get your commercial property ready for winter. A bit of time spent now can save you a lot more time and money in the months ahead.
Please let us know if we can be of any assistance in the weeks ahead!
– Ken Jorgenson