BIG COUNTRY, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – As people see ice freeze to grass, trees and cars, many have been surprised to see the roads have ‘slush,’ rather than layers of ice. A part of the Texas Department of Transportation’s job during this freeze is to apply brine to the roads to melt the ice. So what is brine and this ‘slush,’ and what does it do?
KRBC Chief Meteorologist Dylan Smith said brine is just a simple solution of salt and water that prevents ice from attaching to roadways and melts the ice already there.
“The best I can describe it is, it’s been cold, but we factor in salt and water, it has a lower freezing point so the salt and the water mix, the stuff that’s falling doesn’t freeze because it mixes with the salt water,” Smith explained. “That has really helped keep things just above the freezing point of that liquid, so we’ve seen more liquid instead of ice today and that’s really helped the roads stay unfrozen.”
When the brine and ice mixes together, a slush-like concoction can be seen on the roads or even just running water. Since Monday, the weather has been slightly warmer by a few degrees, which has aided in keeping ice off the roads.
“Yes, it’s still below freezing, 28, 29 (degrees), but it’s in that sweet spot where if it’s not just cold enough, that salt water doesn’t freeze,” Smith added. “Whenever it rains, it’s pouring warmer water into cold mixtures, which is warming up the streets, which helps melt the ice as well.”
If the Big Country is seeing freezing temperatures and rain, why is it freezing rain and not snow? Smith explained that is has to do with the temperature of the atmosphere, not just what we feel and witness.
“We’ve seen snow when its 45 degrees here, the problem is above us in the atmosphere, there’s a warm layer where it melts what actually would be snow into rain. And depending on the thickness of the cold of the surface, that’s when we either see freezing rain, liquid rain or sleet,” Smith explained.
Thursday morning, Smith said we can expect some things to say the same, but may see more slush and black patches of ice.
“I don’t expect the roads to be terrible. And I say that with a little bit of a grain of salt there, because you obviously want to be careful as you commute. No matter if it’s icy or just wet,” Smith said.
KTAB’s Chief Meteorologist Sam Nichols said another reason for the slush today is that the Big Country has seen record high January temperatures.
“The soil temperature before the event even began was pretty warm. And second, solar radiation,” Nichols explained. “When those clouds thinned out, that allowed a warm. Now we may not have the warm up on our skin… the ground absorbs that heat.”
He also added that friction from cars also helped created the slush. Nichols also noted that Thursday will be a type of transition day, where the morning will start out icy, similar to what the Big Country had today, then begin to warm up and thaw out.
“The freezing precipitation is going to change over to a cold rain, and then by lunch, it’ll start winding down and hopefully by the afternoon we’ll see some sunshine.”
Nichols also noted that if the cloud covered had not thinned out today, it would not have melted as much. He added that throughout the night, it will refreeze and the conditions should improve a great deal by noon.