NOTEBOOK: Are We Facing A Deicing Meltdown?

Inventories are plummeting, fuel prices remain high, and material transport is grinding to a halt. Snow professionals must consider how this will impact their ops this winter.

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We’ve begun to witness snowy conditions across North America this past week. With Winter 2022-23 setting in, could the perfect storm of winter conditions, coupled with ongoing supply chain issues and unprecedented low water levels along the Mississippi River, create a doomsday scenario for professional contractors?

It’s a real possibility, especially concerning deicing chemicals, reports Snow Magazine contributing editor Rob English, who writes on the state of the salt and deicing industry.

Ingram Barge Co., one of the country’s largest barge shippers, announced last week it was providing formal notice of a "force majeure event” as low Mississippi River water levels disrupt its operations from locations downriver from Baton Rouge, La.

This means 5,000-ton barges are now lucky to haul 800 tons, English says, and with fuel up, the cost per trip is higher, and the deadweight tonnage (the weight of cargo, crew passengers, and stores that a ship can carry) is 20%, at best.

“This impacts everything going out -- soy, corn, grain, and everything going back up, which means rock salt,” he says.

For the time being, rock salt stockpiles are stable throughout the Snowbelt. “My concern is the inability to reload and build inventory with the river shutdown,” English adds. “Costs are through the roof on all forms of shipping and are unavoidable.”

Magnesium chloride and calcium chloride inventories are exceedingly tight due to challenges – container costs, in particular -- on shipping products in from overseas, he says.

“At this time of year, we are typically loaded to the ceiling following preseason sales, and then we prepare to meet winter,” says English, the president of Chemical Solutions Inc. “We were roughly 65% of our commitments for preseason, and reinforcements are unclear -- if at all.  We are currently at zero inventory for magnesium chloride, which I’ve never experienced in my 33 years of doing this. And supply from Europe is unavailable due to the ongoing container debacle.”

Global economic factors are creating a meltdown in the volume of containerized cargo movement all over the planet. For a recent analysis detailing this predicament, CLICK HERE

Inventory levels remain precarious. And without a firm, reliable weather outlook, it’s difficult to predict the ultimate impact on the professional snow and ice management contractor, English says. “But if we get into a pattern of snow like 2015 that hits the Midwest, they will be hurting for salt supply,” he warns. “And falling back on alternatives is impossible since there are none.”

CLICK HERE to check out English’s most recent State of Salt report.

Lastly, with reports indicating a 25-day diesel inventory, English is concerned about potential fuel rationing and supply this winter, mainly if it’s cold and home heating oils get sucked up. Consider an over-the-road truck getting 6-8 mpg; then you are looking at 12 gallons every 100 miles that (with approximate diesel fuel costs) is $65 every 100 miles in just fuel. Add in the insurance, tires, and maintenance, and now trucking costs will soar beyond belief. 

“With the situation on the Mississippi, this will impact food costs at the grocery store along with everything else,” he says. We are teetering on the edge of a very expensive winter if [major snow events] come in. Nobody is saying anything about this, but I think it is a real possibility.” 

Click HERE, HERE, and HERE for more information on the diesel inventory issue.

Mike Zawacki is editor of Snow Magazine.