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As another storm approaches, state running short of salt

If the forecasters know their business – and who are we to doubt them? – it will be snowing by the time you read this.

A storm expected to drop as many as 14 inches of snow in southern New Hampshire, and as much as 8 inches in Greater Concord, was expected to arrive late last night and continue through the day, according to the National Weather Service.

As a result, Gov. Maggie Hassan postponed today’s scheduled State of the State address, and said state agencies would allow leave for employees who could not travel safely to work. The University of New Hampshire in Durham canceled classes for the day, as did Concord and Bow schools. As of last evening, the Concord Hospital Center for Health Promotion, Deering town offices and Service Credit Union branches had all announced they would be closed for the day, according to listings on WMUR.

Meanwhile, the state is running short of road salt. Officials have ordered an additional 21,000 tons of salt to add to the 99,000 tons left in storage.

State Department of Transportation spokesman Bill Boynton said that as of Friday, with 52 percent of its official winter maintenance season over, the state had spent $27.3 million – or 65 percent – of its $42 million winter budget.

“This has been a challenging New Hampshire winter thus far, with a wide range of conditions and numerous storms that have taxed our budgets and winter maintenance operations,” said Boynton. “To make sure that we have this winter covered, we will very likely be tapping into our reserve salt stockpiles for next winter.”

Starting in mid-December, there have been seven storms in the state that caused travel disruptions.

Officials across the Midwest – where winter has hit harder – say they’re rationing salt supplies, knowing the time is still coming when they traditionally need it most – when the coldest part of winter gives way to temperatures just warm enough to turn snow into freezing rain and sleet and roads into ribbons of ice.

“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,” said Julius Hansen, public works director in the Chicago suburb of Glen Ellyn, citing last week’s television images of thousands of motorists getting stranded on ice-covered roads in the South.

So far this year, Glen Ellyn’s snow-removal crews have responded to 31 storms.

“In an average winter, we have 20,” Hansen said.

In some areas, there has been so much snow that cities have had to find creative ways to stretch their supplies: spreading salt only on intersections and major roads and mixing it with sand. In Indiana’s Morgan County, there is so little salt left that what is on hand will be mixed with sand and used only on the hills.

“We can only do what we can do,” county engineer Larry Smith said.

In Pennsylvania’s Butler County, they’re trying out a product called Beet Heet, which is made of processed sugar beet molasses, for anti-icing purposes.

Milwaukee road crews are experimenting with liquid cheese brine, mixing it in with rock salt before it goes on the road to make the salt wetter “so it will stick in place instead of bouncing away,” said Sandy Rusch Walton, a spokeswoman with Milwaukee’s Public Works Department.

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