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  • 05 Oct 2020 8:28 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    HANCOCK, Mich. (AP) — How serious is winter in the Upper Peninsula? Road salt arrives by ship. Indeed, a freighter dropped 20,000 tons of salt in Hancock on Wednesday, the first of two deliveries. David Mattila of Mattila Rock and Dock says the salt will be used in five western Upper Peninsula counties. He says salt is bought by the state, dropped at the dock and then delivered by truck. The salt is mined in Goderich, Ontario, Canada. The ship first stopped in Sault Ste. Marie before crossing Lake Superior to Hancock.

  • 03 Oct 2020 10:56 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    This week, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) reported that the April 2019 derailment of a VIA Rail passenger train traveling eastward at 60 mph on Canadian National’s (CN) New Castle Subdivision near Coal Branch, New Brunswick appears to have been caused by a broken rail.

    The TSB also said it was concerned about the lack of requirements to inspect rail crossings for rail web corrosion that could lead to in-service rail failure.

    The VIA train had traveled over the Lakeville Road crossing before the last two passenger cars derailed. The cars remained upright, and three passengers were examined on site for minor injuries. And, there were no dangerous goods involved.

    TSB’s investigation revealed that the rail broke beneath the train as it rolled over the Lakeville Road crossing, causing the derailment. The web of the north rail, which is the narrower section between the head and foot of a rail, had thinned due to corrosion to a point where normal train forces were more than it could handle. The rail progressively fractured under the train.

    The TSB added that due to the long-term environmental conditions at the crossing, along with the presence of winter road salt, the corrosion of the rail web occurred at an accelerated rate. Because the web of the rail was hidden by the crossing surface, the corrosion had not been identified by visual or ultrasonic track inspections.

    For more information, please check the investigation page.

  • 22 Sep 2020 8:49 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    La Niña weather patterns can cause drier than average years in some regions of the United States. In those same regions, El Niño weather patterns can cause wetter than average years.

    You’ve probably heard your local weather forecaster talk about rain or storms caused by El Niño. But have you ever heard of La Niña?

    La Niña, like El Niño, is a weather pattern that can occur in the Pacific Ocean every few years. In a normal year, winds along the equator push warm water westward. Warm water at the surface of the ocean blows from South America to Indonesia. As the warm water moves west, cold water from the deep rises up to the surface. This cold water ends up on the coast of South America.

    n the winter of a La Niña year, these winds are much stronger than usual. This makes the water in the Pacific Ocean near the equator a few degrees colder than it usually is. Even this small change in the ocean’s temperature can affect weather all over the world.

    Rain clouds normally form over warm ocean water. La Niña blows all of this warm water to the western Pacific. This means that places like Indonesia and Australia can get much more rain than usual. However, the cold water in the eastern Pacific causes less rain clouds to form there. So, places like the southwestern United States can be much drier than usual.

    La Niña is caused by an interaction between the Pacific Ocean and the atmosphere above. However, it can have effects on weather all over the world. These changes in the atmosphere can lead to more lightning activity within the Gulf of Mexico and along the Gulf Coast. Also, the environmental conditions during La Niña can lead to more tropical cyclones—which include hurricanes—forming in the deep tropics (near the islands in the Caribbean, for example).

    Thankfully, scientists can predict the El Niño and La Niña weather patterns up to a year before they occur. The GOES-R series of weather satellites can help weather forecasters map the increased lightning and issue earlier and more accurate severe weather warnings.

    In Spanish, El Niño means “the little boy” and La Niña means “the little girl.” They are sort of like a brother and sister. Like many siblings, the two weather patterns are opposites in almost every way. La Niña causes water in the eastern Pacific to be colder than usual. In the same region, El Niño can cause the water to be warmer than usual. Areas that are hit with drought during La Niña years are pummeled with rain in El Niño years.

    Unlike a brother and sister, El Niño and La Niña might not be related. A La Niña year usually happens a year or two after an El Niño year. However, scientists don’t think that a La Niña is always caused by an El Niño.

  • 11 Sep 2020 6:38 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    La Nina, which translates to “little girl” in Spanish, is characterized by cooler-than-average sea temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. It’s considered the antithesis of El Nino, which is distinguished by warmer-than-average sea temperatures.

    CTV’s Your Morning meteorologist Kelsey McEwen explained that La Nina gradually develops when the westward trade winds in the equatorial region of the Pacific Ocean – the west coast of South America – intensify. As a result, the stronger winds push warm surface water to Indonesia and Australia, which allows for deep, cold water to rise to the surface along the South American coast.

    “It’s called upwelling… all this cold water deep in the ocean basically comes to the surface, and it drops the temperature,” McEwen said during a telephone interview with on Friday. “What that does is it cools the surrounding atmosphere.”

    While this activity is happening in the tropical Pacific, McEwen said it can have a dramatic impact on temperature and precipitation conditions in North America and the rest of the world.

    In Canada, McEwen said La Nina will likely affect British Columbia, the Prairies, Ontario, and Quebec while the territories and the Maritimes will be less impacted.

    “Think cold and wet, basically, as the big takeaway,” she said. “It’s going to mean likely a wetter-than-normal winter for B.C., for Ontario, for Quebec, in particular, and then in the Prairies, it could mean colder-than-normal temperatures.”

    McEwen stressed that it won’t mean the entire winter will be wet and cold for those regions, but when there is precipitation in Ontario and Quebec, for example, there could be a lot of it and the Prairies might have to deal with some extended cold spells.

    “If 2020 wasn’t bad enough, get ready to shovel,” she said.

    As for the Maritimes, McEwen said those provinces won’t be as affected simply because of their distance from the Pacific Ocean.

    South of the border, La Nina has already made its presence known with its impact on the Atlantic hurricane season.

    McEwen explained that La Nina has been brewing for some time and it results in the weakening of the winds between the ocean surface and the upper levels of the atmosphere or the “wind shear.”

    “The best way to picture it is like corkscrewing in the atmosphere,” she said. “It's wind changing direction and speed with height so as you go higher up in the atmosphere, the wind almost corkscrews and this wind shear is detrimental to hurricane development.”

    An environment with lots of wind shear will prevent hurricanes from developing, McEwen said.

    La Nina, however, reduces the amount of wind shear in the Atlantic basin, thus creating optimal conditions for hurricanes to develop.

    “This is a global impact,” McEwen said. “Yes, it's in the Pacific, but we look at that area to basically define our entire planet, because we're all connected through the atmospheric circulation.”

    The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has already been more active than most, McEwen said, with a tropical storm named Sally expected over the weekend.

    “The fact that we are already at “S” [in the alphabet for naming tropical storms] is unreal,” she said. “And we’re not done yet. We’re going to November so we will likely run out of names and then at that point they go into the Greek alphabet. So it’s a huge year for sure.”

    McEwen said La Nina will likely peak during the winter months before easing in the spring; however, that could change because the atmosphere can be unpredictable.

  • 08 Sep 2020 6:53 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    A few parts of Alberta got a taste of winter-like weather this long weekend.

    Temperatures plunged across the Prairies due to a deep upper level trough dragging in unusually cold air from the north. A weak low pressure system then tracked over the Rockies into Alberta and the frigid temperatures allowed for snow to fall across parts of the province.

    Some high elevation areas saw several centimetres of snow accumulate and certain ski hills, such as those at Sunshine Village, looked like they were in the middle of winter.

    See below for a look at the winter-like weather in Alberta.

  • 29 Aug 2020 1:45 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    The City of Whitehorse says 75 per cent of its trees planted along Main Street in the downtown core have died in the last couple of years due to road salt, making it the third time trees have had to be replaced on this street over the last few decades. 

    Martin Paquette, with the city's parks and recreation department, says business owners may be contributing to killing the trees. He says too much salt is being spread on the sidewalks during the winter, which is getting into the tree bases.

    "What happens with salt is that it absorbs water and reduces the amount of water available for the tree, so it creates conditions similar to drought, which is really bad for trees," Paquette said.

    Paquette says the city is spending around $20,000 to replant 45 out of 60 trees over the next month.

    The city purchased assiniboine poplar trees, which are known to be resilient, and plans to plant them deeper and use mulch at the base to help protect their roots. 

    "Hopefully this will help absorb the salt from de-icers in the winter," said Paquette. He says the city plans to replace the mulch each spring as well. 

    "So in winter it will act as an insulation and hopefully it will absorb all the salt."

    Paquette wants business owners to start using sand instead of salt. He says the city is going to distribute pamphlets with more information. 

    Paquette hopes the new trees will thrive this winter.

  • 18 Aug 2020 7:34 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    (CNN)Death Valley was the hottest place on Earth on Sunday. If verified, it could be the hottest temperature recorded in the world since 1913.

    The hottest, driest and lowest national park in California and Nevada recorded a preliminary high temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). The all-time high of 134 degrees, reported over 100 years ago, was also recorded in Death Valley.

    It'll be just as hot on Monday in Death Valley with a predicted high of 129 degrees, per the NWS. The agency is warning people who live in eastern California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah to limit their time outside to between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m.

    Nearly 60 million people in the US, from Arizona up to the US-Canada border, are under a heat advisory, watch or warning this week, CNN meteorologist Tyler Mauldin said. The heat is the result of high pressure that's settled over much of the West Coast.

      Usually, the West and southwestern US experience the North American monsoon during this time of year, said Daniel Berc, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Las Vegas.

      But the monsoon hasn't developed as it typically does so instead of heavy rainfall Death Valley is getting hotter under high pressure, Berc told CNN.

        It's been a sweltering summer for much of the US -- last month was the hottest July on record for seven states along the East Coast, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

        Not to be outdone, Death Valley reported a high of 128 degrees last month, too -- its hottest temperature (until this month) since 2013, NOAA reported.

      • 14 Aug 2020 11:23 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

        Don’t know what to do with all that leftover sidewalk salt once the snow stops falling? The City of Hopkins is now offering the first-ever sidewalk salt recycling program in Minnesota.

        Simply bring your leftover salt to Hopkins Public Works and dispose of it in the black garbage bin located near the front door. (All salt must be shaken out of the bag or other original container when going into the bin. No pellet salt is accepted.)

        All recycled salt will be mixed in with City road salt and used for Hopkins public streets.

      • 04 Aug 2020 8:37 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

        Nobody knows how blue crabs got into Toronto’s Mimico Creek, but the more interesting question is how some of them survived in it.

        The blue crab is a saltwater creature, yet six apparently healthy ones were found in the freshwater creek in 2011. And while the water wasn’t salty enough for them to breed, it made for comfortable living. The crabs’ survival illustrates a growing problem for Ontario’s waterways: the excessive salting of roads, sidewalks, and parking lots has contaminated rivers, streams, and lakes.

        Road salt is a necessary evil, effective in deicing roads, sidewalks, and parking lots, and in improving safety at certain temperatures. But in Ontario, it’s common to use much more than necessary, which leads to crunchy sidewalks and runoff that makes lakes and rivers saltier.

        “We could probably reduce the amount of salt we’re applying by at least 25 per cent,” says Tim Van Seters, senior manager with the Toronto Region Conservation Authority. “We’re not going to get rid of it altogether. That’s not realistic to think — but we could certainly reduce it much more by putting in the right safeguards.”

        Salt pollution does much more than provide habitable waters for strange creatures. Increased salinity is harmful to many freshwater organisms, right down to the tiny invertebrates that underpin the entire food chain. Salt is also bad for many native plants and can contaminate groundwater.

        Van Seters has been watching Toronto’s rivers and creeks since 2002, when he started working as the water-quality coordinator for the TRCA. The authority monitors chlorides across the watershed (the chloride part of salt is what causes problems). Guidelines state that chronic exposure to chloride in freshwater streams is concerning above 120 milligrams per litre, and acute exposure above 640 milligramts per litre. Mimico Creek regularly tests above 25,000 milligrams per litre in the winter, according to Van Seters. (By comparison, seawater contains roughly 35,000 milligrams per litre.)

        But salt doesn’t only cause problems in winter, Van Seters says: chlorides can build up in groundwater and stormwater reservoirs, leading to year-round waterway contamination.

        Environment Canada completed a five-year study in 2001 that concluded road salt should be added to its list of toxic substances, although the department did not actually ban the use of road salt. It also stated that any measures taken in response to the study should be “based on optimization of winter road maintenance practices so as not to jeopardize road safety, while minimizing the potential for harm to the environment .”

        While provincial and municipal crews can be directed by policy, much snow removal is done by private contractors, which makes it difficult to monitor and control how much salt is applied to Ontario’s roads.

        “There’s quite a lot of parking lots in the GTA, and a huge amount of salt is applied to those areas. Anyone can go out in a truck, put salt in the back of their truck and spread it in whatever quantities they want,” says Van Seters. “There’s no regulation as to how that’s done, and there really should be. There should be some kind of certification or some kind of licensing requirement just as there is for pesticides or anything that might be toxic.”

        Van Seters says new salt-spreading equipment could also help: automated spreaders are capable of moderating the amount of salt laid down and can help contractors monitor their application rates.

        New Hampshire was the first U.S. state to use rock salt (that is, sodium chloride) on its roads, and it’s ahead of the curve when it comes to moderating use of the stuff, although it hasn’t turned to licensing. Instead, the state’s Department of Environmental Services offers Green SnowPro training for snow removal contractors; those who take it are protected against liability to slip-and-fall claims.

        “What we heard from the contractors is that it was very challenging for them to reduce given the liability concerns. One of the reasons they put down so much salt is to prevent liability in a slip-and-fall case,” says Ted Diers, administrator in the Department of Environmental Services’ water division. “What we did was we wrote a bill for our legislature that would give limited liability relief for people that have gone through our Green SnowPro training program.”

        If someone slips on a parking lot full of salt drifts, it’d be tough to argue that the landowner had been negligent. But more visible salt doesn’t necessarily mean more safety — especially if temperatures are cold enough to render it ineffective (sodium chloride works only between 0 C and -7 C).

        “Because putting salt down increases your safety, the assumption is that the more salt down, the more safety you’ll get — and that’s simply not true,” says Bill Thompson, manager of integrated watershed management with the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority. “There’s a point beyond which putting more salt down doesn’t actually increase safety. It’s a waste of money. It’s an impact on the environment. And in some cases, it may cause pavement to become slipperier ... When you’ve got really high amounts of salt on some sidewalks you feel like you’re walking on marbles.”

        The conservation authority has worked with Smart About Salt — which began as a joint initiative between Landscape Ontario and the Region of Waterloo — to train some 200 area contractors in how to reduce their use of road salt safely. Thompson says the authority is also watching the New Hampshire situation closely, to see how well the legislation works. For now, though, it’s focused on education.

        A major part of the solution, says Lee Gould, executive director of Smart About Salt, is to educate people about winter safety gear and change their attitudes toward snow and ice. Snow tires and boots with good traction, for example, make slippery surfaces safer — and undercut the expectation that pavement should be visible 365 days a year.

        “There needs to be a lot of things that change. There needs to be a change in attitude and culture in terms of how we view winter so we’re taking the necessary precautions — snow tires, sensible footwear,” says Gould. “I think the expectation of having bare tarmac is unfortunate.”

      • 31 Jul 2020 8:11 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

        The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has released a report of its findings after investigating a Canadian National derailment that occurred on February 18, 2020 at Emo, Ontario, northeast of the Minnesota border. The 144-car train included 38 cars of crude oil. A total of 33 cars derailed, and 29 of those carried crude oil. The investigation determined that six of those cars were leaking, and they ultimately released 84,464 gallons of crude onto the surrounding landscape. There were no injuries or fires reported from this derailment.

        The temperature was approximately -17 degrees Fahrenheit, and the train went into emergency braking as it was rounding a four-degree left-hand curve while traveling at 44 m.p.h. Also, the train was rolling over a rail-highway crossing (Ontario provincial highway 602 public automated crossing) when it went into emergency.

        The report notes that “smearing and gouging” was seen on the wheel rim faces of the several of the derailed tank cars. When the wheels left the rails, they landed between the rails, and pushed the rail out of gauge as they moved forward.

        Additional inspection discovered a build-up of snow and ice between tie plate rail seats and the underside of the rail base. This resulted in the rail becoming separated from the tie plate, creating the possibility of a loaded train spreading the rail, which is exactly what caused this derailment. This circumstance is referred to as “ice jacking.”

        The Transportation Safety Board of Canada included the following discussion of ice jacking in it’s report:

        A combination of weather conditions and track conditions is required for ice jacking to develop. In winter, roadway snow clearing activities frequently push road sand, salt, and snow off to the ends of a crossing and onto railway tracks. The presence of road salt can accelerate snow melt, which sometimes leaves water pooling alongside the track. When the track is exposed to freeze/thaw cycles, this can contribute to ice build-up along the base of the rail.

        When water is present, the passage of trains produces a pumping action that can promote water ingress between the underside of the rail base and the tie plate rail seat, where the water freezes. When a number of these cycles occur, it can produce a build-up of ice that physically lifts the rail from the tie plate rail seat, which makes the rail susceptible to gauge spreading when subjected to loading as a train passes. The TSB has observed this phenomenon in at least 1 other investigation. (TSB Railway Investigation Report R11V0057.)

        Although railways are aware of this condition and track supervisors are trained to recognize it, the condition can still be difficult to detect during a visual track inspection when snow is present.

        Read the entire report at

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