After two days of polar-induced misery, Metro Detroit highway officials were preparing to possibly use salt and sand today on some ice-laden roadways to give weary motorists some traction — and relief.
The Michigan Department of Transportation said it expected to start spreading sand today on a 3-to-4-mile stretch of Interstate 275 between the I-96/M-14 interchange and the I-696/I-96/M5 interchange.
“Despite all the plowing, that black ice has been particularly bad through there,” MDOT spokeswoman Diane Cross said Tuesday night. “We’re going to try to use sand. It keeps refreezing, so we’ve got to make sure we get some traction through there.”
Cross said officials hope the sand will eventually end up in the side ravines, not the drainage system.
Cindy Dingell, deputy chief operating officer of the Wayne County Department of Public Services, said crews were waiting for temperatures to reach 16 degrees, with some sunlight, before spreading salt. The National Weather Service forecast: partly sunny with a high of 15.
“This is just a bear to deal with,” said Dingell. “All I can tell you is to pray for rising temperatures.”
Full plowing crews were to be called back out at 2 a.m. today to handle areas affected by blowing and drifting snow, including I-75 and I-275, Dingell said.
Officials elsewhere in Metro Detroit weren’t ready Tuesday evening to send out the salt trucks either, saying they needed temperatures to rise to make deicing effective.
The Oakland County road commission will wait until today, and higher temperatures, before it spreads salt, said spokesman Craig Bryson.
“It’s still too cold,” he said Tuesday night, when temperatures were still below zero.
It could be Friday before Oakland County finishes plowing subdivisions, said Bryson.
The Macomb County Department of Roads also planned to keep plowing Tuesday night, said its maintenance superintendent, Leo Ciavatta. “We have a lot of ice and snow packed on the road from the blowing and drifting,” he said. “As these cold temperatures leave our area, we will be a lot better off.”
After hitting a record-breaking low of 14 degrees below zero early Tuesday, temperatures will gradually warm throughout the week, said the National Weather Service.
The thermometer will rise to 34 degrees Friday, said the weather service.
The arctic freeze, which followed a heavy snowstorm, has battered Metro Detroit, closing hundreds of school districts for a third day today, and turning swaths of cities into barren winter wonderlands and contributing to isolated cases of hypothermia and heart attacks.
It especially has bedeviled commuters, with ice and accidents closing stretches of several interstates and turning other highways into long processions of crawling, slip-sliding vehicles.
The weather actually loosened its icy grip of the region a bit Tuesday, but residents, swaddled in multiple layers of clothes, barely noticed the difference.
“It’s brutal, man,” said heavily covered Carl Thompson, who was gambling at Motor City Casino. What he didn’t gamble on was a howling wind that cut right through his coat, sweater and sweat shirt.
With his car stuck behind plowed snow, Thompson, 48,
walked two miles to the casino to play the slots and cure his case of cabin fever.
“I’m glad I did it,” he said. “I was going crazy.”
The subzero temperatures continued to drive the homeless indoors and confined others to their homes for another day.
A warming center at Detroit VA Healthcare System on John R hosted 56 people Tuesday, a day after it held 70.
Besides a place to get out of the cold, the center offered board games and movies, said VA spokeswoman Lisa Olney. A hot dog social will be held today.
On the west side of Detroit, an 11-person Wayne County Sheriff’s Office unit looked for stranded pedestrians and motorists to help.
This is the second year the Community Organized Urban Team scoured the area, taking people to the Mathis Community Center, where they could remain until 6 p.m.
But a homeless man approached by the unit declined its offer, preferring to continue to stake out a Lodge off-ramp, asking motorists for money.
Deputy Chief Mike Jaafer, who is heading the sheriff’ unit, warned it wasn’t a good idea to remain outside on such a bitterly cold day, with temperatures as low as -14.
“Without question, it’s a life or death situation, that’s how cold it is,” he said.
For those venturing outside, the inclement weather presented sporadic health hazards, according to a check of hospitals in Metro Detroit.
Among the ailments were a heart attack and a case of hypothermia, neither of which were life-threatening, along with several slips and falls and bad backs caused by the shoveling of snow.
While residents were encouraged to keep their pets inside, the Detroit Zoo allowed their animals, at least the cold weather ones, to roam about.
The Royal Oak-based zoo, which has bison, polar bears and Asian wild horses, said the horses were more active than usual Tuesday and gallivanting about.
“It’s not uncommon to walk around the zoo on a day like today and see animals outside because they choose to be outside,” said Scott Carter, the zoo’s chief life sciences officer.
While the four-legged animals liked the weather, their two-legged cousins did not. Attendance at the zoo was lower than usual Tuesday.
Machines didn’t care for the weather, either. The Detroit People Mover was temporarily closed because of the cold.
Staff writers Charles E. Ramirez, Serena Maria Daniels, Tom Greenwood and Jennifer Chambers contributed.