The U.S. Government wants you to wash your car if you live in an area where salt is used to clear the roads of snow and ice. This National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wrapped up a five-year investigation into rusting pipes carrying brake fluid in five million older vehicles.
Maybe you wait in line for a car wash simply so your car or truck looks better. But auto mechanics say during the winter months, it’s actually a necessity. “We go through times like recently where we have small snow and they’re throwing lots of salt out,” mechanic Paul Hagen said.
As we shift into fall, state leaders are already thinking about clearing snow from the roads. And in some cases, what they’re finding is a big increase in the price of road salt. The demand for road salt is outpacing the supply. A trade group for salt mines says they can’t produce it as fast as states and cities are ordering it.
Minnesotans know the sand and salt used to clear the roads in the winter is helpful to drivers. For University of Minnesota biologist Emilie Snell-Rood, who didn’t grow up here, the MnDOT trucks made her curious.
A salt shortage across the upper Midwest has the operations director of Washington County Public Works hoping our frigid weather is over. During a regular winter, Doug Johnson’s department budgets for 10,000 tons of salt, with an additional 2,000 tons on reserve. He’s now down to 1,400 tons, but he’s optimistic it will last.
Last week’s storm was nasty by most Minnesotans’ standards, but road salt researchers at Minnesota State University in Mankato think it was perfect. Civil engineering professor Steve Druschel and two of his students went under a bridge to collect samples of murky road melt from the highway above.
If you’ve made it through a Minnesota winter, then you’re familiar with those whitish-grey shoe stains from all that salt. From commuting shoes to just allowing the salt to take over, everyone has a coping strategy. Bob Fisher, owner of Bob’s Shoe Repair in Wayzata, says Winter is a great time for business. He’s been repairing shoes, or “saving souls” as he puts it, for 43 years.
Evergreen trees in western Wisconsin – the Hudson area specifically – are dying. It may be related to the drought, but forestry specialists still aren’t sure why it’s so centralized. In Minneapolis’ Theodore Wirth Park, evergreens seem to be green and healthy. And the Minnesota DNR says they have not seen a dying evergreen problem on the state’s east side.
Just how snowy was Minnesota’s winter and spring? The road salt tells the tale. The Minnesota Department of Transportation this week tallied the road salt usage for the winter driving season. It came in at more than 304,500 tons.
MnDOT officials say they are ready for the freezing rain and two to four inches of snow expected to fall between Friday night and late Saturday in the metro area. They want drivers to be prepared for the conditions by practicing safe winter driving habits.
Amid a mild winter that’s sparing Minnesota the need to spread as much road salt as it often does, experts and officials will be gathering in Chaska to learn about ways to reduce the impact of salt pollution.
Road salt is a major tool for removing snow from roads, but it’s also a threat to lakes.
It is the winter hitch-hiker, none of us wants on our cars: Road salt. But how much damage does salt really do? And how often should we get our car washed?