KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – A famous grade school experiment involves adding salt to ice, resulting in the ice melting. But do you know the science behind that experiment? And how it relates to winter weather?

Winter weather can make treacherous driving conditions. Salting a road can reduce accidents by up to 93% according to the American Highway Users Alliance. The first roads to salted were in New Hampshire back in the 1930s. Crews used granular sodium chloride as a way to help vehicles keep traction on slick roads. It worked, and that’s why nearly 100 years later, when winter weather rolls in, the Tennessee Department of Transportation rolls out.

When salt is added to ice, the salt attaches to a thin layer of liquid around the ice. That causes the freezing point of the water to lower, which means the ice gets warmer. When it gets above 32 degrees the ice melts away.

The state of Tennessee spent about $12 million on salt and brine products during the winter of 2020-2021. Here in Region 1, which includes most East Tennessee counties, 62,000 tons of salt was used at a cost of more than $5 million.

This winter, Region 1 has 63,000 tons of salt and 367,000 gallons of brine on hand, according to TDOT spokesman Mark Nagi.

“This is something that we prepare for all year round. it can be the middle of July and 95 degrees outside, and we’re getting shipments of salt to our garages all across the state,” Nagi said. “So winter weather season. is very challenging. it can be very challenging in East Tennessee but we’ll be ready when the time comes.”

Salting a road helps provide traction, but it doesn’t necessarily make it safer. When it comes to safety, Nagi said the safest place to be when roads are slick is at home.

“Making sure that you’re staying home that gives our crews the extra room that they need to do their jobs effectively,” Nagi said, adding that TDOT crews are responsible for around 9,000 lane miles of interstates and state routes — and that is just in the East Tennessee Region 1. “So the more room that they have to do their jobs, the better. it allows them to do their jobs effectively and most importantly, as safely as possible.”

Nagi said issues with the supply chain this year have not affected the state’s ability to stockpile salt and brine.

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