Bitter cold leaves Tennessee roads icy, hospital expects spike in cold-related visits

(Fox 17 News)

As the temperatures across Middle Tennessee continue to drop dangerously low, the emergency department at Vanderbilt University Medical Center expects to see more patients for cold-related injuries.

“Unfortunately the number of injuries caused by this kind of ice and cold are really significant," said Dr. Corey Slovis, Vanderbilt Chairman of Department of Emergency Medicines. “A lot of people fall. A lot of people have fractures, and unfortunately some people fall and hit their heads and can get a head injury.”

Dr. Slovis said roads are also a main concern.

“I don't want to be melodramatic, but I think for this kind of driving you want to be sure you have blankets in your car should anything bad happen," Slovia said. "And having an energy bar or two is not a bad idea.”

Dr. Slovis said people should stay inside unless their job forces them to work outdoors.

“The most important thing to do is to keep as much of your body covered as possible and if possible by multiple layers,” Dr. Slovis. “You cannot get wet in this temperature and you cannot stay outside in this temperature.”

With these temperatures, there’s also worry that salt won’t work on midstate roads. TDOT said salt with calcium chloride becomes ineffective below 15° so crews won't work on treating roads overnight.

Lipscomb University’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Associate Professor of Chemistry Brian Cavitt said that salt does not work as well in this extreme cold. Cavitt said to prepare to see patches of ice especially in low lying, shaded areas as well as overpasses and bridges.

Cavitt explained how he teaches his students about the use of salt on roads.

“The ice crystals form like a brick wall,” Cavitt said. “Each water molecule is a brick. Those bricks can form a brick wall easily if you don’t have anything else in the presence of the brick but if you put a bowling ball in the presence of those bricks, they have to migrate around the bowling ball and it takes more effort for ice crystals to form.”

Cavitt also explained the slush that forms.

“The slush that you find on the road is the smaller batches of ice from the interruption,” Cavitt said. “The salt crystals getting in the way of the ice itself.”

Several middle Tennessee school districts are closed for the cold weather. Check the full list here.

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