There's no business like snow business

Here's today's Editorial from the Daily News, in which we answer questions spurred by recent snowfalls. Earth to Philly readers may especially enjoy the last question.

City's got the White Stuff

THE EDITORIAL BOARD had a snow day yesterday, and asked Dr. Crystal Flake, adjunct professor of snow science and associate board member, to answer some of the metaphysical questions prompted by the recent record-setting snow. Such as:

I don't get why so many people run out and buy shovels when it storms. Did everyone lose his shovel from last year? Did the shovels break?

One theory: The run on shovels is the male version of the snow-induced milk-and-bread-buying impulse, but many dispute this. We talked with Brian at Fisher's Ace hardware in Drexel Hill, who sold a whopping 300 shovels just between the two storms last week, and asked why it is that so many people need shovels with each storm.

"I've been wondering about this for years," he said. "I've had the same shovel for eight years. I don't know what people are doing with them."

How exactly does salt melt ice?

Dr. Flake has been told repeatedly to not rely solely on the Internet for research, especially in a town full of scientists, but alas, they all had Presidents Day off, so we must content ourselves with the following from General Chemistry online: Salt applied to ice and snow begins to dissolve, thereby diluting the frozen water and raising its temperature to above the freezing point. Salt molecules disrupt the equilibrium of water molecules, making water harder to freeze. Other substances, like sugar, also do the trick.

Where is the city bringing all the snow it plows? Why not just dump it into the river?

The city isn't dumping snow in the river because plowed snow is full of salt, oil, grease and litter, and that raises environmental concerns. The city is hesitant to broadcast the whereabouts of its dumping grounds, not because of some weird conspiracy, but for fear that it would encourage contractors to dump their snow in the same place. We managed to wheedle the location of one of the lots out of one employee: it's at 9th and Poplar.

Where does the airport put its snow?

Last week, Philadelphia International Airport ran seven diesel-fuel-powered melters that sit over or near a drain and can melt 250 tons of snow an hour. (They say that a 2-foot snowfall equals 166,000 tons of snow.) And 400 employees work on snow removal during an event like last week's. Each year, airports around the country compete for the Balchen/Post award sponsored by the Northeast chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives for outstanding performance in snow removal.

What's the right price to pay to have someone shovel my walk?

We checked with business owners to see how much they were shelling out for shoveling. Ken Weinstein, owner of the Trolley Car Diner, says the average price of clearing the sidewalk of storefront is about $100. What's right for a residential address depends on the depth of the snow and the total space, but shoveling the walk of a standard rowhouse shouldn't cost more than $25.

Don't these monster storms prove that global warming and climate change are myths?

This cogent explanation comes from Weather Underground, a blog by meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters: "Record-breaking snowstorms are not an indication that global warming is not occurring. In fact, we can expect there may be more heavy snowstorms in regions where it is cold enough to snow, due to the extra moisture [that] global warming has added to the atmosphere . . . As the climate warms, evaporation of moisture from the oceans increases, resulting in more water vapor in the air. This extra moisture will tend to produce heavier snowstorms. *
 

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