Across the country in the past several weeks severe winter storms have wreaked havoc on our roadways. Most have read the stories about the drivers stuck on I-95 in Virginia for 24 hours in a snowstorm.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, major mountain passes in Washington state were closed for several days when several feet of snow fell over the course of a few days. Other closures halted traffic on Interstate 5 and Interstate 80 in Oregon, Nevada and California. I witnessed semi trucks lined up for miles along the roadways here in my home town (30 miles north of the California border), waiting for the passes to open up so they could deliver their cargo. Forecasts for this weekend throughout much of the Midwest, mid-Atlantic states and the Northeast promise more severe weather, with ice, snow and wind guaranteeing difficult driving conditions.
One can find excellent winter driving tips from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and AAA, but the best and most obvious tip is to not drive in wintry conditions if at all possible. If you have to drive or find conditions suddenly changing and becoming hazardous, you can deal with the situation best by keeping your vehicle in good condition, keeping certain items in your car for emergency situations and driving defensively.
We all know in icy conditions we should slow down and increase the distance between our car and others’,
but some of the best advice I heard recently is very succinct and practical: Turning, braking and accelerating — on icy or snowy roads, only do one of these at a time. If you do get stuck or are forced to stop, experts advise making sure your car is visible
(keeping the dome light on after dark doesn’t use much power) and keeping the tailpipe clear of snow to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning when you (periodically) run the engine for warmth.
My husband and I had the opportunity to test our winter driving preparedness and savvy during our recent New Year’s trip visiting friends in cold and snowy Central Washington. Even before leaving home on our nearly 1,000-mile roundtrip, we checked detailed forecasts and were prepared to cancel last minute if things looked too dicey. We also consulted state Department of Transportation cameras throughout our journey so as to have real-time information about road conditions and weather. I practiced putting on our chains and made sure I had waterproof gloves and one of those foam gardener’s kneeling pads should the need arise. A few other key items: blankets, boots, extra gloves and hats, de-icer and a scraper and brush, phone charger, jumper cables, a flashlight, water and food.
We lucked out on our trip north, but we had to adjust our plans for the return journey. The evening before we were to leave, a major storm passed through the Columbia Gorge, with blizzard conditions dropping at least 18 inches of snow in some areas. Interstate 84 was completely shut down for about 60 miles all of the following day, but our gracious hosts insisted we stay until it was safe to venture west. We left the next morning with temperatures in the ‘teens and an ice fog coating every twig and surface with icy crystals, but the forecast promised temperatures in the mid-30s by the time we reached the Gorge, and the DOT cameras showed bare pavement due to the valiant efforts of snowplow drivers through the night.
We topped up our windshield washer fluid, made sure the phones were charged and headed out. The highway was indeed free of snow and ice, though there was a lot of standing water, with the roadside drains clogged with snow and slush. Those 18 inches of snow coating the trees and houses were impressively beautiful, but we were very happy not to have to deal with any on the road. We arrived at our daughter’s home in Portland just four hours later and made the final leg home the next day through plenty of rain, but nothing was frozen.
Turns out we made our dash down the Gorge at just the right time. Two days after our drive, the interstate through there was once again closed, this time due to mudslides due to the melting snow and heavy rains on the burn scars of a major wildfire that burned there four years ago. We were so glad to be able to visit with friends and family over the holidays, but we were prepared to adjust our plans as the weather dictated and were prepared for whatever Mother Nature might throw at us. I hope you stay safe in your travels throughout the remainder of this winter season as well.
— Patty Vanikiotis, associate editor/copy editor
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