Winter Weather Myth: BUSTED!

Winter Weather Myth:  BUSTED!

I noticed when flipping through the channels during the Jan 27/28 ice event (the stations I watched shall remain nameless, but I’m not referring to KXII), and also from talking to folks on the street, of a prevailing myth I’d like to debunk.

The myth goes something like this:

“It must be 32 degrees (freezing) or above to get ice to melt off of the roads even if the sun is shining”


See the graphic I have prepared above.  Sun shines on concrete or asphalt paving materials. The solar energy can reach the pavement even through ice that’s quite thick. The road surface heats much more rapidly than the air due to its density and the material it is made of; so even though your backyard thermometer may say “25 degrees”, the road surface will likely be wet and not icy if the sun has been out for a while.

I witnessed this personally on the morning of January 28th when my thermometer read 24 and yet most of the ice had melted on the side street in front of my house. This effect doesn’t work if the road surface is in the shade. I noticed during the winter weather event patches of ice hunkered in the shade while the sun-exposed areas were totally ice free and dry.

Naturally, a cloudy day is a different story, and the effect doesn't work very well once temperatures get REALLY 10 degrees. -J

As always...please take it easy behind the wheel!

Steve LaNore

Chief Meteorologist







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  • by johnny Location: tishomingo on Feb 13, 2009 at 07:25 PM
    I was seeing the same thing going but I do not recall the dates, my wife was telling me the roads were icy and i went out to get in the car and I did know the temp was in the 20's and the roads was getting wet thawing out.
  • by Danny Location: Antlers on Jan 30, 2009 at 06:18 PM
    OK, thanks for the correction and the info. Guess we're never too old to learn!
  • by Steve LaNore Location: KXII-TV on Jan 29, 2009 at 03:52 PM
    Danny, sublimation is a different process whereby ice (a solid) goes directly into the gaseous state as water vapor and "skips" the liquid step. You can put some ice cubes in your freezer (uncovered) and leave them in there for several weeks. When you remove them, they will most likely have shrunk due to sublimation. The process that took place January 28th was plain 'ol melting. Sunlight heated the road surface THROUGH the ice; the layer of ice nearest the pavement rose above freezing and melted. This is why the ice was solid on top and "mushy" underneath when it first began to melt. The dewpoints were quite high as well, which makes sublimation a very slow process. You need DRY air for sublimation to be faster. One place that sublimation does happen is on mountaintop glaciers. Scientists have reported in published studies that much of Mount Kilimanjaro's glacial retreat is due to this sublimation of ice and not global warming. Take Care, Steve
  • by Danny Location: Antlers on Jan 28, 2009 at 07:20 PM
    Yes Steve I know what you are talking about. I learned of this some years back, (from watching the weather guys). Isn't that process called sublimation? I think that is what I learned about. As you said, the same thing happened in front o my house today.
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