Thoughts on Salt

‘There’s one additional consistent message I’ve heard on salt supply for contractors: Don’t wait until just before winter to search for salt…’

By Martin Tirado, CAE
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend two educational seminars hosted by SIMA members in the last week. Not surprisingly, both programs focused on the hot issue for this winter season: salt supply. The speakers were nicely diversified, from a major salt mining company, to the former executive director of the Salt Institute, a consultant to DPW and fleet managers, to weather forecasters. Here are a few things I learned, and thoughts for you to consider.

Technical information:

  • 12°F  (-11°degrees C) is the lowest limit of salt in melting snow and ice. Any air & surface temperatures lower than this and additional melting materials will be needed to effectively melt snow and ice.
  • 23.3% is the ideal salt solution for brine.
  • DPWs are starting to use FLIR infrared cameras in their trucks to detect sources of heat for purposes of both public safety and to detect where there is active heat (melting) occurring on roadways.

Salt supply:

  • Approximately 20% of salt used for snow and ice melt is consumed by the private sector. With 80% consumption, the public sector has much more group buying leverage than the private sector.
  • Salt mining companies are in business to sell salt, not control supply and demand. At least one major salt mining company is bringing salt from overseas to try to meet demand. The supply chain, from mine to applicator, takes time and is affected by several factors including the weather, such as the freezing of the great lakes shutting down shipping routes.
  • Supply could increase if salt applicators could take on more inventory. Ports and salt depots have a maximum amount of salt they can store at any one time.

If you have a limited supply of salt for the upcoming winter, there are the essential things that should be done, including not over-applying, spreader calibration, use of liquids in a variety of ways to maximize the snow and ice melt effectiveness of salt. 

There’s one additional consistent message I’ve heard on salt supply for contractors. Don’t wait until just before winter to search for salt and purchase a 1 year, historical-based average supply. The companies that have planned and purchased effectively, they have salt for this winter. The longer one waits, prices are only going to get higher as supply decreases.

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