Ice hampers pedestrians, drivers


Last updated 1/30/2024 at 10:12am

Photo by Bill Kelly

Deer put bird seed laid for traction to another use.

It's been a rough couple of weeks with the snow, rain on snow, and icing cycles that have befallen Sisters Country folk needing to get about. Getting to work, school, the grocery store, or gas station isn't an option for most. Nor is walking the dog.

Lt. Chad Davis who heads the Sisters Sheriff's Office told The Nugget that he's been surprised by the few numbers of slip and fall accidents his team has encountered given the persistent conditions. But many have fallen without injury, or caught themselves at the last second as one foot or another slid out from under them.

"I don't know if I'd been better off to have fallen on my keester than torque my back as I did catching myself mid fall," mused Leon Warren describing a near miss going to the gym. Most falls end in embarrassment rather than breaks but sprains and bruising can be nonetheless painful.

Physical therapists in town tell us that they are seeing an increase in fall-related injuries as well as patients who have aggravated their back or shoulder shoveling snow.

Keeping sidewalks and drives clear of ice is not only hard work, it can also be expensive depending on how you tackle it. The key, experts say, is getting to the snow as soon as you can before it turns to ice. Shoveling or snow blowing will make the job of ice control much easier.

When the blade of a shovel is no longer cutting it, it's time for topical treatment. First is to know what you are trying to accomplish. Is it improving traction on the ice or removing the ice altogether? Often the first precedes the latter.

The options are many, ranging from kitty litter to coffee grounds to sand to sawdust to bird seed. They provide some immediate traction benefits, and in most cases also will act to de-ice. They are generally speaking not harmful to the environment. However they are messy and easily tracked into the house. Kitty litter clumps, and gets muddy quickly.

Birdseed is popular in Sisters, with the added benefit of keeping our feathered friends fed. Or so thought Irene Daniels who learned the hard way: "I put down about $15 worth and in five minutes the deer came and licked it clear down," she said. "And the ice was still there until the sun came out."

Alfalfa meal is also popular in Sisters Country. Its dry and grainy composition is ideal for traction and like urea often used by farmers to de-ice, it contains no nitrogen and any threat to ground water.

For the vast majority of homeowners, chloride-based products will be the go-to choice. Start with what not to use. Sodium chloride or rock salt is often used because it's more affordable than other chlorides. However it is highly corrosive to concrete.

According to the Farmer's Almanac, rock salt is effective to approximately 12 degrees, but can damage soils, kill plants and grass, and cause driveway and car problems. It's also toxic to animals when ingested. Plus, if you care about keeping local waters pristine, salt causes problems with the over-salinization of rivers and lakes.

If your walk or driveway is made of porous paving materials like concrete or brick, salt causes freeze-and-thaw cycles that eat away at it and make it prone to cracking and crumbling.

Salt can dry out and burn your pets' sensitive paws, causing painful cracks and open sores. Licking the salt off also puts them at risk for gastrointestinal problems. If they ingest enough salt, it can be lethal!

Salt runoff can contaminate well water and reservoirs and wash into lakes and streams where it is toxic to fish and amphibians, the Almanac reports.

Calcium chloride, marketed under dozens of brand names and widely available in Sisters, is the most commonly used non-sodium ice melt product melting at temperatures as low as -25º. Magnesium chloride is often touted as being safer for pets. However the ASPCA says that magnesium chloride can cause stomach upset. It is effective to 0º.

ODOT treats some roads around Sisters with magnesium chloride, a chemical salt that's applied as a liquid solution. It's considered easier on the environment and less corrosive to vehicles and roadways than solid salts favored by eastern states.

Magnesium chloride is sprayed as a liquid in dry conditions and can be applied hours in advance of approaching storms. When it rains the treatment washes away quickly unfortunately.

Whichever method you use, the first job always is to be safe. Take your time and apply in smaller, repeated treatments rather than one big dose.


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