If you've driven anywhere in the lower 48 this year, you've probably run into your share of freezing precipitation and 'black ice,' right? Oh, while you are safely inside your home everything looks fine, but when you head out to your car - provided you're not parked in a warm garage at the side of your house - you find it encased in a sheet of transparent steel.
Ice that feels like steel
That transparent steel is ice and you've probably slipped and slid your way around the car as you tried to get to one of your car's doorlocks open. Don't be afraid to admit that this might be the situation, because it has happened everywhere this year from Northern Maine to Mississippi.
They weather gins (as in more than one magical weather genie on one of the services) are calling this a 'La Nina Winter' and this seems to mean that if lousy weather is going to happen anywhere, it will, even where it's not supposed to.
For example, in the last few weeks, you've probably seen videos of four-wheel-drive vehicles climbing almost to the top of a small rise only to find themselves sliding backwards as all four of their wheels try to bite into non-existent traction. The excitement happens as the truck, wheels turning front slides backward into first one car and then a second and finally comes to rest against a third. It's an unholy mess.
Freezing zone above the ground
But, that's exactly what driving on 'black ice' and in freezing precipitation is. The best way to describe it - being charitable - is unnatural and the worst way is to describe it as an unholy mess, but that's exactly what it is.
Granted, if you've lived above the 35th parallel for more than 15 minutes, then you've had more experience with 'black ice' driving than say someone from South Carolina, but, even for the hearty folks from the Rust Belt, 'black ice' is no joke. Many people take spills just walking the few steps to their trash barrels. Most thoughtful drivers in New England or the Upper Midwest or Canada just plant themselves and wait until the ice storm passes.
That's the ticket for anyone who may be impacted with driving on frozen precipitation - better known as 'black ice.'
What causes this type of precipitation? Usually, it's caused by a combination cold air at the surface (it might be several thousand feet thick) that is caught under a layer of warmer air that is producing rain or heavy drizzle. Meantime, the cold air at the surface not only keeps surfaces at or below freezing so that any precipitation falling on them freezes instantly, causing 'freezing precipitation' and 'black ice' driving.
Having spent nearly 50 winters driving in New England, you think one would get used to this type of driving, but it is the type that most longtime drivers fear most. For example, take the time, driving a mid-1980s Lincoln Town Car during a 40-mile early morning commute with roads that looked 'normally' wet. They were not! The road that merely looked wet was covered with about a-quarter-inch of ice and every application of the short block 4.6-liter V-8 turned the Town Car sideways and it drove most of the 40 miles in that condition. Thankfully, it was early and traffic was light.
Meantime, instead of the 10 to 12-minutes it normally took to cover the distance to the next major shopping mall where you could park and walk, it took the better part of two hours and the boss, of course, wanted everyone in. The icy walking was just as tough as the driving and it didn't take long before the driver when down, slapping the back of his head on the sidewalk. A Good Samaritan, in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, took the person to the office, where arrangements were made to get the person to the hospital where it did turn out there was a concussion involved.
That morning was quite a lesson for the driver. Here is what was learned:
Always pay close attention to the early morning traffic reporting. If there's a hint of ice in the reporting, then, take a day off
Pay close attention to the weather forecaster who will be detailing the ongoing weather for the areas where you may be driving
If it is nighttime and the road looks wet, but it is known that the temperature is below 32, check tree limbs and lights for ice buildup or 'accretion' and stay off the road
If you must drive, be sure all of the windows are clean and the lights are cleaned front and rear. This is an action that's likely to be repeated several times
Allow extra room from the traffic around you. It may even mean you have to slow down several times to lose the traffic that may be building up around you
To determine proper stopping distances look at the car ahead of you as it passes a point and then count 'one-thousand, two-thousand, three-thousand, four-thousand.' This will effectively double he stopping distance and make things safer for you
When you are behind the wheel, drive as if there were a couple of Emu eggs under the pedals and the last pressure could break them. This tip, along, is worth its weight in British royalty
The same is true of starting from stoplight or sign and moving into traffic
Keep your foot off the brake pedal as much as possible so there is no jerking.
Make everything as smooth as glass and you'll be all right.