Monday, December 3, 2018

Driving in the Snow

Friday night there was a slight cold snap. Just a little chill, really.

On Saturday I had to go south by about a hundred miles, and ended up leaving for home right before midnight... at which point I traveled through a snow storm in the middle of the night on mountain passes with limited visibility and sheer cliffs.

For those of you on the east coast  reading this: when I talk about mountains, I'm not talking about the mountains on the Appalachian trail. The highest mountain peak in Maryland (where I spent a fair amount of time growing up) is over 3000 feet. As I look out my window I can see Mt. Timpanogos, which is close to 4 times that height, and doesn't even break the top 5 tallest peaks in my state.

These are not small mountains, and the trails in them tend to be twisty and windy due the height of the terrain. I've had to learn to drive in the snow, and have had to do so as a matter of being able to get around. I have to do it fairly well, because going off the side of the road doesn't mean getting towed; it means wondering if I left my toaster oven on in the several seconds that I have left while I plummet to my death.

The next time you are stuck somewhere where it is unexpectedly snowing -- or if you need to bug out to a snowy location -- remember these three rules.

Drive Slow
If there's snow on the road, keep an eye on your speed. Any snow at all means that it's cold enough to form ice on the road, and patches of “black ice” (ice that does not show up visually against the road, but is still very slippery) can form.

If the road is covered in snow such that you can't tell where the lane markers are, or where the edges of the road are, driving slowly is the only way to give yourself enough time to safely brake or make turns.

Sudden braking is actually a very bad idea as it's very likely to cause skidding. You may not be able to avoid it, but if you have to brake suddenly, you want to be doing so at a low speed. Sharp turns can cause the same problem.

Getting into a car accident will put a much bigger dent in your schedule than saving the five minutes by going faster. Remember that.

Drive Low
Most modern cars are front-wheel drive. A lot of them have a tendency to understeer in bad weather, due to swinging around. Having a little junk in the trunk (I recommend a thorough emergency kit) gives you extra traction, which can save your life when you are dealing with adverse conditions.

If you have nothing else, and need cheap weight, buy kitty litter or play sand. They also provide grit (for traction) if you need it to get out of a slippery spot.

Once again, a car accident (even just denting your bumper) is much more expensive than the extra mile or two per gallon you will save by having no extra weight in your car, so put the bowling ball back in the trunk.

Drive Light 
Keep your running lights on. If it's after dark, people will turn on headlights, but there's nothing wrong with keeping your running lights on at all times and erring on the side of caution. Being visible to other drivers makes much easier for them to avoid hitting you.

You can save yourself a lot of grief with some basic preparedness. Having lived in the south (Alabama) and the northeast, I understand what having an unexpected flurry of snow can do to traffic, and to the ability to get around. Hopefully, if you ever have to bug out, it won’t bite you in the back.

Good luck, and don’t forget to practice.

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