Residents of the Chippewa Valley woke up to a different sight on Election Day morning, November 6th. What was brown the night before quickly turned white, wet, and cool. A large band of rain moved from Minnesota into Wisconsin during the early morning hours. As temperatures cooled, the transition began – first, from rain to a mix, then, from a mix to snow. By the time all the precipitation wrapped up, some locations picked up one inch of fresh snow, a true sign the winter season is just around the corner.
Each fall, usually around the first snow, you will see somewhere a little story about safe winter driving. Hmm…I wonder where this year? Some good tips include slowing down, driving defensively, keeping your vehicle in good shape for winter travel, and having an emergency “stuck in the snow for several hours” kit prepared in the vehicle. But instead of just keeping these tips in mind, I would like to dig deeper. Why are they important? I find with anything in life, learning a backstory makes is much easier to remember and follow suggestions.
- Slowing down – Common sense right? But I think some people drive with the attitude “it won’t happen to me.” Last November, I met up with fellow meteorologists at the National Weather Service in La Crosse. One of the forecasters at the office presented a study. In general, he found that a large number of accidents occurred with a small amount of snow, a high enough number to be compared to a big winter storm. Perhaps people think a little snow won’t hurt, but “definitely slow down for the big stuff?” Also, think about your tires. From the little, tin can hatchback to the big SUV, about four square feet of most vehicles is in contact with the road. Yes, a good snow tire is beneficial, but slowing down is always a must!
- Driving defensively – There are a lot of good drivers out there, but even the best slip up once in a while. Follow this example with me:
It’s snowing and the road is a bit slick. You are coming up to an intersection and have the green light. A driver in the oncoming lane wants to turn left at the same intersection and thinks he has enough time. Of course, he hasn’t taken into account the road is slippery. You hit the brakes, but the car is not slowing down fast enough.
I’m sure you know what could happen next. In winter, I suggest always looking twice. Snow can be quite distracting and change your perspective. To me, grass and trees give definition to my field of view. It’s much harder to judge distance and speed when snow is on the ground. Mentioning “distance” also brings up a good idea: give yourself plenty of space when following vehicles.
- Vehicle condition – If you have room in the budget, put some good tires on your car! And when ready to spend, the saying “you pay for what you get” applies. The better traction on the tire, the better you will be able to push through the snow. Also, make sure you have good headlights, taillights, blinkers, etc. When I’m on the road, it is frustrating when people drive with ice and snow over the lights, or a blinker is not used. Don’t make people guess which way you are going. Finally, keep plenty of gas in your car at all times. You never know when you’ll need it, which leads me to the fourth tip…
- Emergency kit – At the very least, keep blankets, some water, a first-aid kit, and a few candy bars in the vehicle with you. In addition to slippery roads, engine stalls and flat tires could leave you out in the cold for several hours. Hypothermia and frostbite are nothing to mess with, so always dress prepared! In addition to the basics, a shovel and cat litter can go a long way. If you are stuck in the snow, use the cat litter for traction and the shovel to clear the way. Lastly, keep your insurance information handy and phone numbers for towing needs.
The last piece of advice I have is know the weather forecast and road conditions. Be familiar with points along your travel route, so if you go into the ditch, you can call a tow service or law enforcement with your general location. Remember, they have to drive through the wicked conditions too, so limiting “guess work” for them is a plus!
If you follow all of these tips, I consider you an “expert” winter driver! Unfortunately, the title is not official, and I have no prizes to give away. Perhaps a “cheers” to you with my coffee mug in hand right now will do! :)
I wish you a safe winter season, and be sure to enjoy the season’s activities. Spring will be here before you know it! Thanks for reading!
Posted under Hometown Weather, Weather, Weblogs
This post was written by Nick Grunseth on November 7, 2012