World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Black ice

Article Id: WHEBN0000489965
Reproduction Date:

Title: Black ice  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Ice, Freezing drizzle, Glaze ice, Water ice, Sidewalk
Collection: Precipitation, Road Hazards, Snow or Ice Weather Phenomena, Water Ice, Weather Hazards
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Black ice

Warning sign for icy pavement in Quebec, Canada

Black ice, sometimes called clear ice, refers to a thin coating of glazed ice on a surface. The ice itself is not black, but virtually transparent, allowing the often black road below to be seen through it. The typically low levels of noticeable ice pellets, snow, or sleet surrounding black ice means that areas of the ice are often practically invisible to drivers or persons stepping on it. There is, thus, a risk of skidding and subsequent accident due to the loss of traction. A similar problem is encountered with diesel fuel spills on roads.


  • Definitions 1
  • Formation 2
    • On roads and pavements 2.1
    • On bridges 2.2
      • Problems on I-35W Mississippi River bridge 2.2.1
    • On water 2.3
    • In mountains 2.4
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


The term black ice in the United States is generally used to describe any type of ice that forms on roadways, even when standing water on roads turns to ice as the temperature falls below freezing.[1]

Three other definitions of black ice by the

  • Is there really such a thing as black ice?, from the Straight Dope staff

External links

  1. ^ "Is there really such a thing as black ice?". Straight July 9, 2002. Retrieved 2012-11-28. 
  2. ^ World Meteorological Organization. "Black Ice". Eumetcal. Retrieved 2013-11-28. 
  3. ^ "AMS Glossary: Black ice". Retrieved 2013-11-28. 
  4. ^ "Is there really such a thing as black ice?". Retrieved 2008-12-22. 
  5. ^ "Black ice causes treacherous driving conditions in metro". KARE 11 TV. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 
  6. ^ Ice Melters
  7. ^ Abel, David (December 2, 2013). "On busy travel day, black ice led to massive pileup in Worcester". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2013-12-03. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Blake, Laurie. (February 3, 1996) Star Tribune February deep freeze. Black ice makes I-35W bridge treacherous. Section: news; Page 10A.
  10. ^ von Sternberg, Bob. (December 27, 1996) Star Tribune Minnesota is one big deep freeze. What is the sound of a cold record shattering? It's the sound of silence from dead motors, of crumpling metal on icy roads, of resigned grumbling. But take heart — it will warm up. Section News; page 1A.
  11. ^ Blake, Laurie. (January 21, 1999) Star Tribune State hopes to speed up north-metro lane project. But it clashes with Met Council over whether addition to interstate should be for car pools. Section news; Page 2B.
  12. ^ Blake, Laurie. (October 19, 1999) Star Tribune I-35W bridge getting de-icer system. Unit will target ice before it can form. Section news; Page 1A.
  13. ^ "I-35W & Mississippi River Bridge Anti-Icing Project" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 5, 2011. 
  14. ^ Blake, Laurie. (January 13, 2000) Star Tribune Met Council will survey our citizens' travel habits. Study will include trip numbers and times, speed of drivers and waits at ramp meters. Section news; Page 2B.
  15. ^ Blake, Laurie. (February 3, 2000) Star Tribune Richfield may face traffic challenges; How will I-494 accommodate Best Buy's 5,000 commuters? Section news, page 2B.
  16. ^ "De-Icing Chemical May Have Corroded 35W Bridge". Archived from the original on November 13, 2007. Retrieved September 10, 2007. 
  17. ^ National Weather Service. "Rime ice". NOAA accessdate= 2013-11-28. 


See also

Black ice is a great hazard for climbers and scramblers. Cold weather is common at high altitudes, and black ice quickly forms on rock surfaces. Loss of traction is as sudden and unexpected as on a pavement or road, but can be fatal if the rock is in an exposed position with a drop below. An ice-axe and crampons are essential use in such circumstances as they will help to prevent a fall, and a belay rope will help to arrest a fall.

In mountains

Ice can also be formed by seawater spray and water vapour freezing upon contact with a vessel's superstructure when temperature is low enough. Ice formed in this manner is known as rime.[17] As the formation progress, the aboveboard weight of the vessel increases and may ultimately cause capsizing. Furthermore, rime ice may impede the correct functioning of important navigational instruments on board, such as radar or radio installations. Different strategies for the removal of such ice are employed: chipping away the ice or even using fire hoses in an attempt to remove the ice.

When the temperature is below freezing and the wind is calm, such as under a high atmospheric pressure at night in the fall, a thin layer of ice will form over open water of a lake. If the depth of the body of water is large enough, its color is black and can be seen through the ice, thus the name black ice.

Black ice on a canal in the Netherlands

On water

While the automated de-icing system prevented further major multi-vehicle collisions, it may have contributed to the collapse of the I-35W bridge, due to accelerated corrosion of the structure.[16]

By January 1999, Mn/DOT began testing magnesium chloride solutions and a mixture of magnesium chloride and a corn-processing byproduct to see whether either would reduce the black ice that appeared on the bridge during the winter months.[11] In October 1999, the state embedded temperature-activated nozzles in the bridge deck to spray the bridge with potassium acetate solution to keep the area free of winter black ice.[12][13] The system came into operation in 2000.[14][15]

The I-35W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was well known for its black ice before it collapsed in 2007 into the Mississippi River. It had caused several pileups during its 40 year life. On December 19, 1985, the temperature reached −34 °C (−29 °F). Cars crossing the bridge experienced black ice and there was a massive pile up of crashed vehicles on the bridge on the northbound side. In February and in December 1996, the bridge was identified as the single most treacherous cold-weather spot in the local freeway system, because of the almost frictionless thin layer of black ice that regularly formed when temperatures dropped below freezing. The bridge's proximity to Saint Anthony Falls contributed significantly to the icing problem and the site was noted for frequent spinouts and collisions.[9][10]

bridge painted green seen from the Mississippi bank
The I-35W Mississippi River bridge seen from below in 2006

Problems on I-35W Mississippi River bridge

  • Bridge Ices
  • Slippery When Wet
  • Road Ices
  • Slippery When Frosty
  • Icy Bridge Deck
  • Bridge Ices Before Road

Additional signs may be attached with various different wording, in provinces which do not have bilingual requirements:

Similar road signs exists throughout Canada, but warnings sometimes appear without words to comply to bilingual requirements. The Canadian sign features a vehicle with skid marks and snow flakes. The same sign's official and undisclosed description is defined as "Pavement is slippery when wet".[8]

In the United States, road warning signs with the advisory "Bridge May Be Icy" indicate potentially dangerous roadways above bridge structures.

Bridges and overpasses can be especially dangerous. Black ice forms first on bridges and overpasses because air can circulate both above and below the surface of the elevated roadway, causing the bridge pavement temperature to drop more rapidly.

Warning sign for bridge on US turnpike

On bridges

On December 1, 2013, heavy post-Thanksgiving weekend traffic encountered black ice on the westbound I-290 expressway in Worcester, Massachusetts. A chain reaction series of crashes resulted, involving three tractor-trailers and over 60 other vehicles. The ice formed suddenly on a long downward slope, surprising drivers coming over the crest of a hill, who could not see crashed vehicles ahead until it was too late to stop on the slick pavement.[7]

At low temperatures (below –18 °C), black ice can form on roadways when the moisture from automobile exhaust condenses on the road surface.[4] Such conditions caused multiple accidents in Minnesota when the temperatures dipped below –18 °C for a prolonged period of time in mid-December 2008.[5] Salt's ineffectiveness at melting ice at these temperatures compounds the problem.[6] Black ice may form even when the ambient temperature is several degrees above the freezing point of water 0 °C (32 °F), if the air warms suddenly after a prolonged cold spell that has left the surface of the roadway well below the freezing point temperature.

The American Meteorological Society Glossary of Meteorology includes the definition of black ice as "a thin sheet of ice, relatively dark in appearance, [that] may form when light rain or drizzle falls on a road surface that is at a temperature below 0 °C."[3] Because it represents only a thin accumulation, black ice is highly transparent and thus difficult to see as compared with snow, frozen slush, or thicker ice layers. In addition, it often is interleaved with wet pavement, which is nearly identical in appearance. This makes driving, cycling or walking on affected surfaces extremely dangerous. Deicing with salt (sodium chloride) is effective down to temperatures of about −18 °C (0 °F). Other compounds such as magnesium chloride or calcium chloride have been used for very cold temperatures since the freezing-point depression of their solutions is lower.

On roads and pavements


  • A thin ice layer on a fresh or salt water body which appears dark in colour because of its transparency;
  • A mariner's term for a dreaded form of icing sometimes sufficiently heavy to capsize a small ship;
  • Another term for ice on rocks in the mountains known equally as verglas (glaze ice).


This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Hawaii eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.