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De-icing roads ahead of winter storm: How it works

UH chemist Tom Teets warned extremely cold temperatures could affect how well de-icer works.

HOUSTON — While many things remain uncertain about the upcoming winter storm, one thing is for sure: it will make traveling throughout the Houston region nearly impossible.

State and county officials have started de-icing roads, and the city of Houston plans to start on Saturday.

But how does it work?

Tom Teets, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Houston, said snow will make roads slick but ice will make driving treacherous.

“So most often they’re just using rock salt, which is just sodium chloride," Teets said. "The same kind of salt that you would put on your food. Sometimes it’s applied as a liquid solution which is why sometimes you see trucks that are depositing a liquid on the road."

In Houston, Public Works will use liquid magnesium chloride, which is also found in salt, as a pretreatment.

Once roads ice over, crews will use a de-icer mixture combined with sand.

“The sand is present just to help with traction so sand doesn’t really help melt the ice at all. It just provides the tires with a little bit of grip on the ice that would be present," Teets said.

He warns extremely cold temperatures could affect how well de-icer works.

“If you get down to 15 Fahrenheit, they basically stop working, so there is a limit to which they can actually melt the ice, and if the temperature gets too (cold), they’re not going to be effective anymore,” Teets said.

With even colder temperatures expected, the best thing you can do is listen to the warnings and stay home.