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The Mystery of Black Ice

Contributed by James Bria, CompuWeather Sr. Forensic Meteorologist & Weather Expert

black_ice_on_roadBlack Ice is defined as a thin coating of transparent ice on a surface. Since this type of ice is transparent and not actually black, its name results from the most common surface that it is found on, asphalt, pavement or black top. Black ice is a normal occurrence during the winter season in areas that have sub-freezing temperatures and can even happen numerous times in a week. The reasons black ice is so dangerous is because it often times looks like it is just a wet surface, leaving unsuspecting motorists or pedestrians unprepared for the potential dangers associated with ice. It also usually occurs after a storm has ended, so ice may be an afterthought once the snow and ice from the winter weather event has been cleared.

Black ice can form in various ways. The most common way that it forms is the result of the melting of snow in the subsequent days after a storm. The most widespread black ice issue usually is in the first day after a winter weather event. When the temperature rises above freezing during the day, snow, ice cover and snow piles will melt into liquid water. When the temperature drops below freezing, any standing water or moisture will freeze and change to black ice. Black ice can also form when temperatures drop below freezing after a rain event. The freshly fallen rain may not have enough time to dry before the cold air changes the remaining moisture to black ice. It is important to note that black ice is not a precipitation type and is the result of freezing of already fallen water; therefore freezing rain is not the same as black ice. An accumulation of packed snow or ice is not considered to be black ice. The best practice when the threat for black ice exists is always to be extra cautious because you never know when you will come across black ice.