Slush Lakes: An Explainer

Slush lake

Friday afternoon, New York City hit a high of 41 degrees—after a foot of snow fell. The upside: we’re not all freezing any more. The downside: enormous slush puddles at most corners. Slush lakes, even. For stroller pushers, wheelchair users, and people without tall waterproof boots, this is a huge drag.

Here’s how this happens. Most corners have ramps, which create a natural low point. Pedestrian traffic crossing at the corners melts the snow in those walkways. People who own buildings on corners are supposed to shovel out those ramps—it’s actually part of their legal obligation to shovel the curb. But many don’t. So the snow gets trampled, turns to slush, the watery mush then gathers at that low point and voila, a slush lake.

Street grate clogged with snowIn theory, that melting snow should drain to a catch basin—one of those grates along the curb. But when the catch basin becomes clogged with snow, well, that drainage can take a while.

If good Samaritans want to help alleviate the slush backlog, “the best thing that people can do is try to make sure the catch basins are clear. That will help the process,” says Chris Gilbride, spokesperson for the NYC Department of Environmental Protection. And when they’re shoveling, it’s helpful if they can avoid dumping the snow over street grates.

 Of course, it’s not just sidewalk snow clogging the catch basins—it’s the walls of street snow piled up by city plows. And those probably won’t be going anywhere for a while.