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Charlotte streets boss: Black ice is big challenge

Dozens of Charlotte transportation department drivers went through the paces Thursday of preparing for the city’s infrequent bouts with frozen precipitation.

But their boss said one of the trickiest problems in dealing with Charlotte streets in winter weather is the most difficult to see.

“Black ice – that is difficult,” Charlotte streets superintendent Saleem Khattak said Thursday as he watched drivers participate in the annual training day for snow and ice. “We know where some of the typical problem spots are, but with black ice, there are often surprises.”

Snow and ice on Charlotte-area roads is a rarity, as the city receives an average of about 5 inches of snow annually. A more common problem is black ice, which forms when rain or melted snow refreezes on streets at night.

Motorists typically encounter the hard-to-see ice in the pre-dawn hours – often with a crash as the result.

Khattak said Charlotte contracts with a private meteorological service for forecasts and monitors sensors that provide pavement temperatures.

“Those play a large role in what our response will be,” he said. “We do pre-treatment on the spots we know are prone to become icy.”

“But,” he added, “ice often forms in places we don’t expect.”

City officials watched carefully Tuesday night as snow began falling and temperatures tumbled into the lower 30s.

“The pavement never reached freezing,” deputy streets superintendent Ken Martin said. “But we were ready.”

City plow driver Monica Burney said ice is the great equalizer.

“It doesn’t make a difference how big a vehicle you’re driving,” said Burney, who has 10 years of experience with the transportation department. “Everything slides on ice.”

Otherwise, Khattak said Thursday that the city is ready for whatever winter dishes out.

“It wasn’t bad last year,” said Khattak, who came to Charlotte in 2012 after more than a decade in the same role in Colorado Springs, Colo. “But we always practice for a bad winter. Conditions change quickly in this area.

“We have to be ready for anything.”

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle
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