Thursday 23 December 2010

Snow business: facts and opportunities

From Snow in Milton 2

There is going to be an incredible blame game once the snow has cleared, with an economic impact of £28bn for 2010. So I'm not going to join in. Instead here are some suggestions on how you can make the best of the snow disruption.

Can you or your staff not get to work? Perhaps the work can still get to you. Forget snow clouds and think internet cloud. Individuals and small businesses can use Dropbox to share folders securely at different locations. Larger companies can set up their own cloud based systems.

Consider making it easier for people to get to you. This starts with clearing snow and ice from the access and path to your premises. Snow shovels are available for under £20 (see e-bay here Cleared paths actually thaw and dry out quicker. To keep the path safe, consider gritting. Salt grit will work down to ground temperatures of about -9 degrees Celsius at around £5 per 20kg bag. An environmentally friendly alternative is to use sand/grit. For those with a large business and big pockets - splash out on a winter service vehicle!

Customers still unwilling to come to you? Can you provide a special "bad-weather service delivery" to them? Even in towns and cities, there are the elderly or others who have been housebound due to the snow for up to a fortnight this year. Often cars or vans can still gain access. Even if it seems like a loss leader at the time, view it as a promotional exercise. People WILL remember those who made an effort and it could even generate positive publicity for you. 

Increase your vehicle mobility in snow in one of three different ways;
Snow chains work by acting as giant treads on the tyres. Winter tyres have softer rubber at lower temperature and a larger tread, giving better traction on snow and ice. The recently introduced snow socks rely on the fact that snow sticks to certain fabrics ensuring grip.
Keep yourself and your staff safer and mobile on snow and ice with special footwear. Methods include studs, grit-like soles or special treads. The stud  solution also comes as units that you can fix to existing shoes or boots (see here for all options

A simple short term stopgap is to wearg old socks over shoes to avoid slipping on snow. This has been demonstrated to work by the University of Otago, New Zealand!

So here's an idea for a future entrepreneur. Disposable non-slip overshoes. I remember from science clean room work that we had elasticated disposable paper overshoes. These could, for example, be made from the same fabric used for the tyre socks mentioned above, or with a similar gripping material.

Interesting facts and figures on snow for your customers

Inform and cheer up your customers with the following miscellany. Feel free to copy, format and brand under your own company letterhead or logo and distribute in print or digitally. My only request is that you
a. Share this information free
b. Include a credit at the bottom - "collated by"

Four books featuring snow:

  1. Peter Hoeg "Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow"
  2. "Wintersmith" by Terry Pratchett
  3. "The Box of Delights" by John Masefield
  4. "Ice Station Zebra" Alistair Maclean

On Road Salt

Road grit contains mined rock salt (sea salt is too fine). More than half of all mined salt goes to treat road surfaces worldwide. Highly concentrated salt solutions can withstand freezing down to -27 degrees Centrigrade  but spreading salt only melts snow and ice at temperatures above -9 degrees Celsius. From" The Idiots' Guide to Highways Maintenance"
And "Why do they use salt to melt ice on the road in the winter?"

Get a Grip

Your vehicle's grip in snow can be improved by using one of the below:

Footwear with additional grip in snow and ice

Winter Service Vehicles

Originally, winter snow was compacted to provide a smooth surface for sleds over bumpy ground in winter! The earliest patents for snowplows date back to 1840, but there are no records of their actual use until 1862, when the city of Milwaukee began operating horse-drawn carts fitted with snowplows. Modern Winter Service Vehicles include the gritter, snow blower, snow groomer snow melter, snowplow, snow sweeper and surface friction tester.

The Science and Beauty of Snow

The largest recorded snowflake was 15" (38cm) across and found on Jan 28th 1887 Fort Keough, Montana

Snow crystals are mostly six sided, though three sided and twelve sided forms can exist

Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley (1865 - 1931) photographed more than 5000 idividual snow crystals during his lifetime ( The tradition lives on in "Snowflakes", by scientist Kenneth Libbrecht. (

Different types of snow crystal form depending on temperature and humidity.
"We see that thin plates and stars grow around -2 C (28 F), while columns and slender needles appear near -5 C (23 F).  Plates and stars again form near -15 C (5 F), and a combination of plates and columns are made around -30 C (-22 F)."

The Japanese scientist Ukichiro Nakaya was the first to grow snow crystals in the laboratory when he accidently discovered that they grew best at the end of a rabbit hair!

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