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Salt ineffective in frigid conditions

Published: Monday, Jan. 6, 2014 11:48 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014 3:46 p.m. CDT
Motorists brave drifting snow and sub-zero temperatures along Northwest Highway between Crystal Lake and Woodstock. Drifting snow and icy roads caused the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office to recommend people stay at home except in the case of an emergency. Kyle Grillot -

CRYSTAL LAKE – Projected dangerously low wind chills led to another day of closures across the county.

After calling off classes Monday, schools again extended winter break for students by one more day by canceling classes scheduled for Tuesday. The wind chill warning is in effect until noon Tuesday, as wind chills are expected to reach 35 to 45 below zero.

Keeping roads cleared also has been difficult.

Record low temperatures rubbed salt in the proverbial wound Monday by rendering traditional de-icing methods useless.

Public works crews in municipalities around McHenry County had no answer for the 40-degree-below-zero wind chills that plagued the area Monday and caused dozens of vehicles to slip off roads into ditches.

The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office reported there have been 170 motorist assists countywide the last two days for drivers who went off the road, stalled and even ran out of gas.

Victor Ramirez, director of public works for Crystal Lake, said crews surrendered salting roads as it was completely ineffective and tried to attack the problem with aggressive de-icing chemicals that still had a hard time cracking through the ice.

Vince Olsen, internal services superintendent for Algonquin, has run into the same problem.

“The salt is just not working right now so we’re blading ice off where we can and only putting down salt in some areas,” he said. “We’ve probably gone through close to 1,500 tons of salt already this year.”

The arctic blast is the latest in a winter that has drained resources much quicker than past years. Ramirez said the city has already had 24 “call-out” events for plowing and salting. The average for a full winter is roughly 30 to 35, he said.

The “call-outs” have also lasted longer as some of the winter events – including New’s Year Eve – required a 24-hour shift split between two crews.

Salt is quickly depleting with more than 80 percent of the city’s supply already used.

“Getting salt is becoming a real issue,” Ramirez said. “We’re looking at alternate suppliers but so is everyone else.”

The expensive winter will not get much better when the spring comes. Ramirez said this deep cold would likely mean more potholes and water man breaks could occur as roads thaw.

“That’s always a concern when you have this cold of weather and the thawing starts,” Ramirez said. “It’s going to be an expensive winter.”

To try to help keep roads clear, the Illinois Department of Transportation had 1,755 trucks assigned to snow duty and 3,700 employees working across the state, according to a news release.

• Reporter Joseph Bustos contributed to this article.

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