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Preparing for winter in the UK

Preparing for winter in the UK

Preparing for Winter in the UK

In the UK we are quite lucky with our winters. Temperatures drop, and we experience ice and snow but rarely is there a need in the built up areas of the UK mainland for snow ploughs, so the most common method of de-icing is using de-icing salt. The application of salt on our roads is an integral part of every local authority’s strategy to make winter’s passage a safe one.

Rock salt works by melting snow and ice and essentially forming a liquid brine. The salt seeps downward to contact the ground underneath, and spreads outward breaking the bond between ice and cold surfaces. In cases of severe weather the application of de-icing salt makes it possible to physically loosen and remove whole sheets of compacted snow and ice. Used in advance of icy conditions salt can also prevent ice from forming on surfaces, this is why many councils send road gritters out when the temperature is forecast to be at a certain temperature. Prevention is always better than a cure! To keep the country moving most local authorities have gritting teams on standby 24 hours a day, however unless the weather conditions are very extreme they tend to come out in the early hours of the morning to avoid peak travel times.

Salt comes in several forms; sodium chloride, calcium chloride, and magnesium chloride to name but a few. Sodium chloride, or simple salt, has been used for many years as the de-icer of choice largely because of its abundance, effectiveness, and its low cost.

White solar salt is typically 99% sodium chloride and leaves little to no residue when it dissolves, meaning this is a popular choice for garden paths, outside buildings, etc.

Red rock salt is typically 93% sodium chloride and 7% grit/marle – minerals that are collected when the salt is mined. Rock salt was first used as a de-icer in the 1940’s. It is effective for areas that receive road traffic. It draws heat from the environment rather than releasing it and is perfect for temperatures as low as -25 0c. Thankfully the worst winter recorded in the UK was back in 1982 when the average temperature plummeted to a chilly – 20 0c.

Meteorologists try to identify trends in weather patterns and provide advance warnings of periods of bad weather. In reality it is hard to accurately predict too far in advance so the best course of action is to stock up and have your supplies ready, or at the very least know where you will be able to source some should you need to.