Winter ’18-’19, Is This a Salt Shortage?

When the snow and the ice arrives there is one tried and true way to keep travelers safe – salting the roads.  There is no more effective means to melting away icy conditions than salt.  The problem facing those in charge of protecting drivers during this long winter of 2018-19 is a shortage in road salt.  There are several reasons for the shortage.

The first reason for the road salt shortage is the previous winter was worse than usual in terms of weather creating hazardous driving conditions.  To keep people safe, more road salt was used than normal.  By the end of a winter that stretched well into spring in some locations, the reserves of road salt for states, counties, municipalities, and companies was depleted.  Possessing depleted road salt reserves, many hoped the predictions of a mild winter were correct.  Pre-Thanksgiving storms were the first hint that the forecasters were wrong.

During the warmer months when on-sight stockpiles of salt are replenished, operation issues with two of North America’s major salt mines caused resupply problems.  The world’s largest salt mine in Goderich, Ontario, had diminished production due to a worker strike and the Cargill mine beneath Lake Erie has experienced water leaks that has limited its inventory of road salt.

A decrease in the supply of road salt wouldn’t be a factor if demand wasn’t high.  However, a harsher than normal winter has led public works and transportation agencies from coast to coast to spreading ample amounts of salt on roadways.  The demand is so high the already depleted supplies are decreasing further. In anticipation of a harsh winter, some suppliers cut off retail customers in the northern states to ensure their government contracts could be fulfilled.

When the salt has been ordered, the harshness of the winter has caused problems for the product to reach its buyer.  Delivering the salt during the colder months is less efficient because waterways are frozen, hindering the progress of barges, and the roads that need the salt inside the semitrailers are slick.

Fortunately, road salt reserves are not empty and the supplies eventually reach those in charge of safe roadways.  Salt, in addition to the less effective sand and cinders, are still being added to the roads when travel conditions become treacherous.  The safety of drivers remains extremely important and winter is not going to last forever.