On the surface, snow removal sounds like a pretty simple process. You get yourself some snow. Then you remove it. For smaller areas, such as sidewalks and driveways, it is often a relatively easy process; one that can be handled with a sturdy shovel, a couple scoops of elbow grease, and the occasional well-placed swear word.
What about bigger jobs, though? What about parking lots? What about streets and roads? As it turns out, the ability to efficiently and safely remove significant amounts of snow from large and/or busy locations is often a matter of science.
Depending upon the timing and severity of an impending storm, it is possible to take action before it hits to make the snow removal faster and cleaner. You may already know that salt is common for helping to melt ice. While water freezes at 32 degrees, salt brine can stay liquid down to about 15 degrees, thereby helping to thwart some icing issues.
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to worry about temps below 15 degrees. Sadly, our world just doesn’t work that way. When the temps drop below 15 degrees, there is a surprisingly natural source that can help: beet juice, which actually acts as a anti-bonding agent.
That’s right. Beet juice from sugar beets, when combined with salt, can help keep ice from forming on roads even when the temps drop well below zero. Not bad for an all-natural product. It’s for this reason that, in some cases, snow removal crews may get out on the road before a storm to spray roads with the beet juice / salt brine mixture. When done at the right time, it can actually help to prevent snow from sticking to the roads, which make the eventual plowing faster and easier.
Speaking of faster plowing…
The Need for Speed
Whether it is in a parking lot or on the roads, it can be a little surprising to see plow trucks—some of them quite large—tearing through snow at speeds that might seem excessive.
In actuality, speed plays a key role in clearing lots and roads.
First, with snowy conditions, it can be difficult to maintain traction when the resistance of the snowing pushing back against the truck increases. By driving through the snow at an optimum speed, it increases the likelihood of not getting stuck in particularly difficult spots.
The next reason for that speed is simple physics. The more speed the plow has when it hits the snow, the greater the transfer of energy to the snow becomes. This results in snow that is thrown farther. This is especially important when plowing streets and roads, as it prevents narrowing that creates a tunnel-like effect as the season progresses.
A Swiss Mathematician, A Chinese Postman, and Algorithms
Actual driving speed is just one way to help ensure that everyone is getting the snow removed as quickly as possible. Another key factor is efficiency—more directly: How do we determine a snow removal route that requires the least amount of backtracking.
Interestingly enough, this type of problem is known as a route inspection problem and it falls squarely in the realm of mathematics known as “graph theory.”
An original example of this problem was posited by Swiss mathematician, Leonhard Euler in 1735. He was trying to devise a way to cross seven bridges in Konigsberg (now Kaliningrad in Russia) exactly once without backtracking. The catch, however, is that it only worked in areas where every intersection featured an even number of roads. Just one T-intersection and the whole thing falls apart.
In 1963, Chinese mathematician, Meigu Guan, brought out Euler’s problem with even and odd intersections. The challenge, as he put it forth, was to imagine a postman who had to deliver all the mail in a city, but needed to do so without doubling back.
Sounds a little like our road plowing issue, doesn’t it?
In 1973, American computer scientist, Jack Edmonds, intrigued by the problem, we able to develop a set of algorithms that were efficient enough to solve the problem of, what he endearingly referred to as,”The Chinese postman problem.”
In short, the solution lies in first discerning the most efficient routs among intersections that have an odd number of streets, because those are the ones that would force you to backtrack. Once you find the most efficient paths between those intersections, you can then combine those routes with the even intersections to create the most efficient overall routes to cover as much ground as possible in the least amount of time.
Of course, this doesn’t account for things like driver hours, truck deployment locations, and some other human elements, but it’s a foundation on which those factors can be figured.
Are Pooping Robots the Future?
So there you have it. From beet juice to Chinese postmen, the science behind snow removal gives you something to think about next time you’re wondering if you’ll be able to get around following a storm. While all of this is interesting to contemplate, it still won’t be as fun as a Japanese robot that eats snow and poops snow bricks. But we work with what we have.
Finally, if you find yourself in need of commercial snow plowing services, give us a call E.P.M LawnScape and Supply a call at (517)-990-0110, today.