Winter is one of my favorite seasons. Food tastes better. The air is crisper. I sleep better and there’s something about walking (and playing) it it. However winter can also be quite dangerous.
We are currently experiencing onslaught of wintry weather. Over 1 Million Californian’s are without power. Over 5 feet of snow fell in the Sierra Nevada range, with reports of 10 feet in higher elevation. And, 30 miles east of Reno, Fernley is under 8 feet of water after a canal broke.
Europe is being gripped by cold weather too. Even the Black Sea was not being good to the Balkans.
Winter weather can be nasty and quite treacherous. San Francisco experienced this first hand with 75mph winds, gusting up to 125 mpg in areas of northern California. These type of winds not only churn up the ocean, but have flipped semis on bridges.
So what can you do to help safe guard yourself in winter?
You must always prepare for the unexpected. Even when it appears like you’ve taken proper precaution, winter can throw you a curve, as in my most recent trip home.
I just returned from a trip from Michigan to Nebraska. It is a 11 1/2 hour drive each way in good weather pushing it, nearly 1600 miles round trip. I had to go home to pick up a few things, including a heavy keyboard and amplifier. My cable provider no longer provides The Weather Channel, at least, I haven’t seen it for months. So I went online to weather.com to check out the storm watch. There was nothing projected for the 36 hours around by departure and return time. So, I was set to do the deed and the weather appeared to favor me.
My secretary warned of something coming towards the end of the week, which we got. It’s nothing to get both snow and ice in Michigan. However she kept mentioning that something might be coming in after this. The satellite showed snow in the big mountains, far west of the Rockies. And nothing but patchy dense fog west of Des Moines. So, with that as the only obstacle, I set out on my quest on Sunday evening.
The trip was fairly uneventful, that is, until I reached my first patch of dense fog just west of Joliet, IL. This was several hundred miles ahead of schedule. And to top that, it was a new kind of fog for me…freezing fog. I was amazed that, although it was freezing on my truck, the roads were easily passable. And I was thankful that I started out on a day that most people were getting ready for work on Monday.
The fog was quite dense. I was really pushing it at 50mph but most of my trip through it was at 45MPH. I kept wonder when I was going to get over the Mississippi river bridge when I saw a sign signaling that I-80 was up ahead. I had gone over the bridge without even knowing it. I couldn’t even see the ramp up or side marking. That was indeed quite dense fog.
Knowing that, I wondered if I would be able to see my next landmark for gassing up – Iowa 80. As big as that neon sign is, I couldn’t see it…and just kept watching the road for the long exit lane to form. I pulled off to gas up and took a picture of the front of my truck. As Mr. Murphy would have it, my batteries were drained and I had a shot or two left. I didn’t bring the recharger either.
So, I lost time on the road, ever grateful of the lack of pressure. The fog lifted about 40 minutes east of Des Moines, and I made decent time for the rest of the leg home.
Coming back was a different story.
After running all my errands, I decided not to sleep first, and try to get past Chicago before 10 PM. Actually, I wanted to be through there well before New Year’s struck, just in case I’d run into that fog again. I never drive anywhere on New Year’s eve. Just a safety precaution.
However as I was heading through the backroads of Nebraska, I ran into a new kind of animal. It looked like a salt/sand truck, but it was carrying something different. As I got closer, the lettering was something I had never seen before on our roads. It said, "DE-ICER." It was an omen.
When did Nebraska start using de-icer on their roads?
On my way back through Iowa, I could see that the eastbound lane had more unlucky drivers. There were at least 20 or so cars in the median and a few scattered down the shoulder. Only one truck was flipped. Seems like the truckers showed more sense than the regular drivers.
I also noticed on the westbound lane a slow moving de-icer truck. Hummm…"Maybe they’re preparing for the New Year’s drivers?", I thought. It wasn’t long before I found out why that truck.
In Iowa, there is a band of colder air that crosses the state. I usually attribute this to the arctic air coming down through Minnesota. Well, out of the blue, snow appear at one of the rest stops. Significant snow. Since I hadn’t seen this on the roadway, I wondered what was going on. Still nothing much on the screen. So I took a nap and got back on the road in a hour or so.
The next rest stop over the line proved to be the one I would spend several hours at. Why? More snow there and the concern that I would be hitting Chicago at peak drink and drown party time. Plus, the screen flashed ONCE that something bad was brewing ahead. With lake effect snow always playing a significant part in travel problems on the western side of Michigan, I was hipped to bad weather brewing…and if I kept on driving, I would be right in it at a very bad time.
So, the better part of valor was to pull off.
When I did get to that part of the state early that morning, only minimal clearing was done, exposing the icy bottom. Essentially, it was ONE lane for most of the drive home.
When you are dealing with winter weather, expect the unexpected. Prepare ahead of time by knowing your route, where you will pull off if need be and where you will fuel. Keep a map book in your car in case you need to plot an alternative route. Keep several credit cards for emergency and cash just in case.
Especially in the winter, plan to fill up at about 1/2 tank. I’m not sure is condensation in the gas tank is really an issue with today’s cars but weird things happen in unpredictable weather and less than 1/2 tank. Also, keep a blanket or low temperature sleeping bag in your car. A clean, dry pair of winter socks is also a good idea, as is some water to keep you hydrated.
And, a cell (even a prepaid one) is a good idea just in case something happens.
Always plan a buffer of time should inclement weather slow you down.
I’ve traveled extensively in the winter, growing up in the snow belt and playing in the Rockies. I’ve also lived at the base of the Sierra-Nevada’s. Nothing beats planning. However when you know for sure that winter’s wrath is ahead of you, the better part of valor is to postpone your trip until the worst of it passes. That way, you’ll live to travel another day.
Next time, I’ll check AccuWeather.