By Don Nelson
The polar vortex has caused quite a stir this season, with subzero temperatures and wind chills paralyzing many cities and placing snow & ice management companies at a disadvantage. These frigid temperatures limit deicer effectiveness, jeopardize your employees’ health, and can cause your equipment to be stubborn when it comes to starting and working effectively.
I live and work in the heart of the polar vortex most of the winter months and must adjust our operations to take into account daily high temperatures (without wind chill) that often reach the negative teens and lows that hit -28° or below.
Following are suggestions we have implemented that allow us to continue operating even in these bitter cold temperatures.
We keep all of our equipment inside a heated shop. I know that isn’t always possible, but if cold temperatures are in the forecast and you can move even some equipment under cover it will make a difference and allow for easier repairs out of the elements, easier starting, clear windows and warmer fuel tanks. Because the machines are better protected, we have seen a reduction in maintenance costs.
If you cannot store equipment inside, the following tips may help keep your equipment functioning:
- Adjust your diesel to a 50/50 blend of #1 and #2 diesel with a fuel additive to keep fuel from gelling. Keep in mind that fuel efficiency goes down the more #1 diesel is used.
- Use a block heater to keep the engine warm, which will aid in starting.
- Place a propane heater under or near the engine compartment to aid in heating if the machine won’t start.
- Use ether starting fluid, but only as a last resort, because it’s hard on engines.
- Block off some of the radiator to help the machine run warmer since not as much cold air would be drawn in.
Once you get your equipment running, make sure you let the machine warm up properly before putting it to work. Cycle all the hydraulics so they warm up, too. Let the windows defrost so you don’t compromise visibility. Letting the machine warm up will also save you money in unneeded repairs.
Other key items to consider:
- Keep extra fuel filters on hand for every piece of equipment in case they get clogged.
- Keep fuel additives on hand in case you experience problems with gelling.
- Maintain an inventory of extra hydraulic hoses, bolts and pins and rubber edges. The extremely cold air is hard on these and they can become very brittle or break.
It should go without saying that you must protect your team from the elements. These temperatures (and often accompanying wind chills) can cause frostbite in mere minutes. Our team members look like abominable snowmen, with every inch of their skin covered:
- Hands – Insulated, waterproof gloves or mittens (we prefer chopper mittens). Keep hand warmers in stock and use as needed.
- Feet – Waterproof, warm socks and insulated boots. Keep feet warmers in stock and use as needed.
- Heads – Stocking hats that cover the ears.
- Body – Carhartt bibs or a snowmobile suit if hand shoveling for an extended period of time.
- Face – Balaclavas are versatile and will protect the face from biting winds and help prevent frostbite.
Any snow & ice management professional worth his salt knows the chemical properties of the common deicers and their limitations when it’s this cold. Because of the extremely cold temperatures we are often up against, we use a blended salt that we pre-wet on the spinner disc. Considering that much of our season is much colder than 20°, we blend products to match the conditions.
Depending on the timing of the storm and our clients’ needs, sometimes we’re able to wait out the bitter cold and still meet our level of service. A lot of our clients are zero-tolerance clients but are a little more tolerant when bare concrete simply is not realistic in the extreme temperatures. It’s important to have an executable contingency plan in place to achieve your agreed-to level of service when your usual method of operation won’t work. Outline it, plan for it, and communicate with your customers to educate them on the limitations that may arise when the temperatures fall.
Don Nelson is president of Glacier Snow Management in Moorhead, MN.