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Snowy winter shrinks road salt supplies in Minnesota

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This year’s snowier-than-average winter has dwindled road salt supplies in some Minnesota cities.

Almost a week after a winter storm closed schools and snarled traffic, crews continued to clean up slippery streets. With colder temperatures and the possibility of snow in the forecast, it doesn’t seem like there is an end in sight. This has some cities worrying if salt supplies will last through winter.

The Twin Cities average 54-and-a-half inches of snow each winter. So far this season 57 inches have fallen, according to WCCO. That's putting a strain on salt supplies as cities work to keep roads clean.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has been watching its salt supply closely all winter, confident it will have enough to get to the bitter end – but that all depends on Mother Nature, the Star Tribune reports.

“We have kind of put ourselves on a low-salt diet, because we know we have to get through the winter," Mike Kennedy of Minneapolis Public Works told WCCO.

Officials told the Star Tribune in early February they weren’t running out, but the harsh winter has taken a toll on its inventory and equipment.

“It’s just a bigger winter, and severe low temps are causing us to use more salt than average,” Kennedy told the Star Tribune. “We’re watching our supplies. … We’ll probably be OK, but we’re monitoring and trying to be conservative.”

For St. Paul, the supply of low-temperature salt is dwindling.

“We don’t expect extra cold temperatures this time of year,” St. Paul Mayor Christ Coleman told WCCO.

Washington County Engineer Wayne Sandberg told the Star Tribune, “The next month will be key. … We’ll be watching the short-term and long-term forecasts. But we’re not going to run out. If we have to buy off the open market, we’ll adjust our budget to do so.”

The city of Northfield isn't as confident. Northfield’s Streets and Parks Supervisor T.J. Heinricy said the city has nearly used up its salt supply and has now started mixing salt and sand together – which takes longer to clean up in the spring, Northfield News reports. This week, Heinricy was authorized to buy 100 additional tons of salt (at $100 per ton), but he isn't confident it will be enough to last the winter, the newspaper reports.

The waves of snowstorms throughout the country have exhausted rock salt supplies and cities are turning to sand, which doesn’t melt the snow and ice, according to MPR. The relentless snowstorms have pushed the salt industry to its limits and depleted cities' stockpiles throughout the country.

Lori Roman, the president of the Salt Institute, released a statement on the organization’s website regarding the supply of salt across the nation:

“There isn’t a salt shortage – salt is in abundant supply. However, some of the country is experiencing a more severe winter than normal leaving some municipalities and Departments of Transportation with low inventories. While many agencies try to have enough salt on hand in the fall to get them through an entire winter, recent weather is forcing many to order again mid-season which is not an ideal situation as there is a lead time for delivery.”

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