My daughter texted me recently on a cold Saturday morning: “Be Careful! BLACK ICE!” accompanied by the crying-laughing emoji.
I laughed out loud.
She knew that her text would get me going because I get a little miffed when people talk about “black” ice.
I remember the first time I heard a meteorologist mention “black” ice. I thought: what the heck is black ice? – ice is transparent.
As I listened to that weather forecaster’s warning about “black” ice, my speculation was immediately confirmed: black ice is more dangerous than any other form of ice.
Ridiculous, I thought, ice is ice. You can slip and fall on any kind of ice and your car can spin out on any kind of ice.
After doing a little research, I discovered that black ice, according to science, is almost perfectly clear and is only black because we can see the pavement surface underneath. It has no air bubbles or swirls (called occlusions) trapped inside.
White ice, on the other hand, has occlusions (or imperfections).
Since black ice has no imperfections and is perfectly clear, why don’t we call it clear ice or just plain ice?
For me, the warnings from weather forecasters can easily be translated into: “Watch out! ‘Black’ ice will sneak up on you and injure or kill you!” I can’t help but laugh out loud because it’s almost comical, except that it continues the historic association of white with good and black with bad.
I understand that it is called “black” ice because we can see the (black) pavement through the transparent ice; but my research turned up an interesting fact: before there were paved roads, motorists were never concerned about black ice. There was certainly ice without imperfections, but it would have been the color of dirt or whatever surface was underneath it. It seems the term “dirt ice” or “macadam ice” never really caught on. “Black” ice, however, has become a phenomenon.
Hmmm … I wonder why.