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TOO COLD FOR SNOW TO MELT

Three days after a storm dropped eight inches of snow across southeastern New York, a 56-year old man slipped and fell in a shopping center parking lot in Westchester County. He sustained injuries to his right hip, shoulder and head as a result of the accident. The man stated that he had slipped on a patch of ice which was present in the parking lot near a large pile of snow which had been created by the plowing of the lot three days prior. His attorney obtained the weather records from the closest observing site to the shopping center, in hopes that it would clearly show a temperature profile that would indicate a melt and re-freeze cycle in between the time the snow ended, and the time that her client slipped. If it showed that, then it could be stated that snow from the built-up pile had melted, run-off and then re-froze into an icy surface. To the dismay of the attorney, the daily temperature records indicated that it had been very cold in the days following the storm. Daytime highs were only in the mid 20s, while overnight lows were in the teens and single digits. So much for the melt/re-freeze theory. Or so it seemed.

The attorney called on the expertise of COMPUWEATHER to help explain how the ice had developed. The meteorologist assigned to the case did a complete analysis of the weather from the day of the snowstorm up through the time of the accident. Using the same data that the attorney had viewed, as well as data from other sources, the explanation for the patch of ice slipped right into place. Simply looking at the high and low temperatures was not sufficient in this particular situation. In the two days after the snow ended, the sky was clear and sunny all day long. This was a key point, as snow…and freshly fallen snow in particular…will begin to melt in temperatures as cold as 24 or 25 degrees when direct sunlight is present. But shortly after sunset, after the effect of direct sunlight is lost, that melted snow will re-freeze very rapidly, while any remaining snow on the ground becomes more hard-packed. In addition, when snow is shoveled or plowed into large piles, compression takes place due to the weight of the snow. This causes snow on the bottom of the pile to compress, and under the right circumstances, to melt.

The analysis by COMPUWEATHER made it very easy to explain how ice could have formed in the parking lot. With the key point being that 32 degrees is not the “magic number” for snow to melt or water to freeze. Those two things can and usually do, take place at a temperature lower than 32 degrees. The case never came to trial, as the information provided by COMPUWEATHER proved pivotal in securing a favorable settlement.