Monday, March 20, 2023
Homeweather and natural disastersPinched: Salt Shortage Leads to Dangerously Slippery Streets

Pinched: Salt Shortage Leads to Dangerously Slippery Streets

As if traffic snarls, scrubbed flights and power outages weren't enough misery, the latest bit of winter savagery to hit the Midwest and the East is an extreme shortage of the salt used to clear snow and ice off roadways.

Many cities have been forced to ration salt after weeks of above-average snowfall and bone-chilling temperatures have nearly depleted their stockpiles.

That's left many streets treacherously slippery, putting motorists, their passengers and pedestrians at risk.

By the end of January, for instance, the Pennsylvania Transportation Department had burned through 686,000 tons of salt — upwards of 200,000 tons more than used during an average year, according to The Associated Press.

Getty Images

In Illinois, Chicago's supply is holding up, but the suburbs are hurting.

"If we don't get the salt, at some point people are going to be sliding all over the place like what you saw in Atlanta," Julius Hansen, the public works director in the Chicago suburb of Glen Ellyn, told the AP, referencing the motorists stranded in the South last week.

Salt producers in Kansas and elsewhere said they were out of rock salt or close to it.

Officials in New York and New Jersey also warned they were running short of the rock salt.

New York City has spread some 346,000 tons of rock salt on its roads so far this year, about the total for all of last winter, Belinda Mager, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Sanitation said.

The rapidly shrinking supply of salt has sent prices skyrocketing as officials stretch resources thin and scramble to find alternatives — like the processed sugar beet molasses being tested in Pennsylvania's Butler County.

Store owners, too, are getting squeezed.

"We're just continuing to get crushed by these storms. With major rock salt shortages, it's starting to get scary out there," Anthony Scorzetti, a hardware and paint manager for Braen Supply in Wanaque, N.J., told Reuters.

"I have people calling from all parts of the East Coast looking for it, and we just have nothing."

Getty Images

Some 77 million Americans were under storm warnings and hundreds of thousands were without power Wednesday as the winter blast that wreaked havoc across the nation's midsection roared into the Northeast.

"The worst will be along the higher terrain, around central New England," said Benjamin Sipprell, a National Weather Service meteorologist. "Southern parts of Vermont and New Hampshire around the border with Massachusetts could see up to around a foot of snow."

The onslaught of ice dragged down power lines. More than 849,000 people were without power in eastern and central Pennsylvania at one point, prompting the governor to declare an emergency. Crews managed to cut that down to 625,000 by Wednesday night.

(Read more: Storm leaves hundreds of thousands in the dark)

In New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie ordered a state of emergency, the state's largest utility PSE&G reported about 9,000 customers without power Wednesday night, down from about 75,000 outages.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy called on residents to stay off roads. Parts of the state have reported 10 inches or more of snow.

"With heavy snow falling across the state and a mix of sleet and freezing rain on the way, I am asking residents to avoid unnecessary travel," Malloy said. "If you can stay home or work from home, please do."

More from NBC News:

Battered Northeast Begins Recovery, Third Winter Storm a 'Rumor'
Jet fuel & Slurpees: Why do gas prices change?
Russian Deputy P.M. on LGBT Laws: 'Please Do Not Touch Kids'

In Connecticut, more than 300 traffic accidents were reported on major roadways and side streets on Wednesday.

"Everyone was skidding all over the place," Bruce Small, 58, an aircraft mechanic from Millford told Reuters.


Most Popular