Updated Dec 8, 2022
The winter season brings with it an abundance of beauty. The stark white snow and glistening ice on a landscape can be incredible. However, these beautiful scenes can also be hazardous.
Winter weather and cold conditions can cause potential dangers, like black ice. This notorious winter threat can be the culprit for slips, falls, and car accidents.
Whether you’re preparing your home or rental property for winter, it’s important to ensure that you’re prepared for cold weather conditions and the chance of black ice.
Black ice is a transparent, thin layer of ice that coats driveways, roads, sidewalks, and other surfaces. The thin coating of ice blends into surfaces and can be practically invisible.
The fact that black ice is both hard to see and extremely slippery makes it especially dangerous. Understanding how black ice is formed and where it is most likely found is key to avoiding its dangers.
Black ice is most often formed when the snow that melts on walkways, driveways, or roadways has had a chance to freeze or refreeze. Refreezing happens when the pavement temperature drops — particularly overnight — so driving with caution in the early morning is important.
Black ice can also form if a sudden drop in temperature follows precipitation. This drop in temperature creates ideal freezing conditions for puddles of water to turn into black ice.
Under perfect conditions, black ice can form anywhere. However, there are some areas where it is much more likely.
Around the house, driveways, walkways, and shaded areas are places where black ice forms easily. Because driveways and walkways are generally kept clear, if snow does melt, it’s easy for thin patches of ice to form when the air temperature drops, especially if they are in shaded spots.
On the road, bridges and overpasses are highly susceptible to icy conditions. Because cold air and wind can travel over and under the road surface, the temperature can drop more quickly, creating ideal freezing conditions. Other common areas include hills and underpasses.
Black ice is transparent, so it can be difficult to see. Sometimes, if the lighting conditions are right, it’s possible to spot black ice, but you have to be looking for it.
If you’re walking or driving in conditions conducive to the formation of black ice, it’s important to stay vigilant and attentive to prevent accidents. Look out for smooth, glossy surfaces — they’re the best indicators of potential black ice.
The best way to manage black ice is to prevent it. According to our research, these are some of the best ways to prevent black ice:
Shoveling your walkways as soon as possible after snowfall goes a long way in preventing black ice. Maintaining them throughout the winter with regular shoveling will keep melting snow at a minimum and keep walkways clear and safe.
If ice forms, it’s important to create traction so no one slips and falls. Putting a layer of sand on the driveway and walkways will help create a tractioned surface, making it easier to walk on.
If a snowstorm is in the forecast, applying a layer of rock salt or brine will prevent snow from adhering to the pavement on walkways and driveways. It’s much quicker and easier to remove if the snow doesn’t adhere to the pavement.
Walking or driving on fresh snow compacts it, making it more difficult to remove. Compacted snow can also form thin layers of ice, creating dangerous conditions. If possible, avoid walking or driving on fresh snow until you clear it.
Shoveling is an important part of black ice prevention. However, it’s important to be conscientious of where you move displaced snow. Piling it around driveways or sidewalks means that the runoff from snowmelt can run onto the pavement.
Black ice is most likely to form at dusk or early morning — the most likely time of day for low temperatures. Be mindful of the time. If you’re walking the dog first thing in the morning or driving home from work, be diligent and look for black ice.
Even if you take all the steps to prevent black ice from forming around your property, you can’t always compete with Mother Nature. If black ice is present around your house, follow these tips for navigating slippery walkways:
If you’re doing any winter driving, it’s important to know how to react if you encounter icy roads. In general, you want to move as little as possible if your car hits a patch of black ice. Avoiding overreaction is critical to maintaining control of your vehicle and evading collisions. You should also consider the following driving tips:
Following these tips for black ice encounters will help keep you as safe as possible and minimize the chances of an accident.
Black ice is one of the more dangerous winter hazards. However, good preparation and maintenance can prevent accidents from black ice.