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MnDOT adds more ice-breakers to its road-clearing arsenal

“They are like big meat-tenderizers on the front of the trucks,” said John Stine, director of the Freshwater Society, which advocates for new ways to clear roads with less salt.

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The Minnesota Department of Transportation's new ice-breakers are two-ton rollers bristling with carbide-tipped spikes. When mounted on the front of snowplows, the whirling spikes stab into sheets of ice, breaking them up to be plowed away. MnDOT

ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s new road-clearing weapon has arrived — and it’s ready to kick some ice.

The devices, called ice-breakers, are two-ton rollers bristling with carbide-tipped spikes. When mounted on the front of snowplows, the whirling spikes stab into sheets of ice, breaking them up to be plowed away.

According to Department of Transportation spokeswoman Anne Meyer, the state bought the first one in 2014, then added more for use in rural areas. The DOT recently increased the number to 17, including four in the metro area.

“They are like big meat-tenderizers on the front of the trucks,” said John Stine, director of the Freshwater Society, which advocates for new ways to clear roads with less salt.

Meyer said the DOT uses the ice-breaker when at least one inch of ice has built up.

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Equipped snowplows travel about 20 mph, pushing the one-lane-wide rollers. After the spikes pulverize the ice, a built-in plow scoops the ice-chips away.

Even when it doesn’t completely break up the ice, the ice-breaker pokes holes to allow salt to better penetrate and melt the ice.

Each ice-breaker costs about $37,000.

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A truck mounted with the “icebreaker” moves through the slush and compacted snow March 5, 2019, on U.S. Highway 12 west of Willmar. Erica Dischino / Forum News Service

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Above average temperatures with a few chances for precip
This explanation will involve a little modern physics.