OTE - Oregon Travel Experience

Get ready for winter driving

Posted on: January 3rd, 2017 by Madeline MacGregor in News & Press | No Comments

Since our local Oregon forecast is a bit unpredictable, it’s a really good time to review what our friends over at the Oregon Department of Transportation recommend for safe driving under snowy or icy conditions.

Snow equals skills, time, and patience

snowed1Driving in the snow requires a certain set of driving skills that some Oregon residents get to use only rarely.

Here are some things to keep in mind:
  • Allow extra time to get where you’re going. Travel is going to be slow.
  • Bike riders should be extra careful about motorized vehicles, which take longer to stop in the snow, while drivers must be extra watchful for people on bikes.
  • Check road conditions on your route before you go at TripCheck.com or by dialing 511. Plan your trip accordingly. If conditions are questionable, wait it out.
  • Turn off your cruise control.
  • Allow extra stopping distance. There is less traction on slick, snowy roads.
  • Turn on your headlights to increase your visibility.
  • Brake gently to avoid skidding or sliding. If the wheels lock up, ease off the brakes.
  • Carry chains and know how to use them.
  • Make sure your vehicle is in top operating conditions, with clean headlights, good brakes, working windshield wipers and good tires.
  • Slow down when approaching off-ramps, bridges and shady spots where the snow often lingers longer.
  • Be prepared for delays. Make sure you have water, blankets, a full tank of gas…and plenty of patience!
  • If you feel tired or if road conditions get rough, don’t be afraid to stop for the night.
  • For extra peace of mind, download ODOT’s 2016 – 2017 Winter Safety Guide (PDF)

Icy road conditions

snowed2Bridges and overpasses are the most dangerous parts of the road in the winter. They are the first to freeze and the last to thaw because they’re built of concrete, which doesn’t retain as much heat as other materials. There is no land beneath the structure to provide protection from the weather. Be safe while driving on icy roads by remembering the following:

  • Turn off your cruise control, be alert and drive cautiously.
  • Roads that are wet or have fresh snow, packed snow, or ice have varying degrees of traction. Adjust your speed to match road conditions.
  • Increase your distance from vehicles in front of you. Allow about three times as much space as usual.
  • If your vehicle suddenly feels like it’s floating, gradually slow down. Don’t slam on your brakes.
  • Changes in elevation can drastically affect road and weather conditions. Watch for icy spots, especially in shaded corners.
  • Avoid driving through snowdrifts — they may cause your vehicle to spin out of control.
  • Blowing powder or dry snow can limit your visibility, especially when approaching or following trucks or snowplows. Keep your distance to avoid being blinded by blowing snow.
  • Look for signs of ice on windshield wipers, side view mirrors, road signs, trees or fences. If ice has formed on any of these things, it may be on the road

After a storm has passed, you should remain cautious, especially on bridges and overpasses. Maintenance crews will be out to clear roads as soon as possible, but the snow and ice may not melt right away.

Invisible danger – Black ice

black_iceBlack ice, also called glare ice or clear ice, is a thin layer of ice on the roadway. Any ice is dangerous to drive on, but black ice is particularly hazardous because the road looks wet, not icy. Black ice isn’t really black; it’s so thin and transparent that the darker pavement shows through. It often has a matte appearance rather than the expected gloss.

Ice on the road prevents tires from gripping, so steering is difficult and stopping is harder. That means four-wheel drive vehicles won’t help much. Ordinary snow tires are designed for snow, not ice. The most helpful device for gaining traction on ice is tire chains. But even with chains, stopping distance is still several times greater than on dry pavement with ordinary tires.

Black ice is most common at night and very early in the morning, when temperatures are typically their lowest. It is usually thin enough that it melts soon after sunlight hits it, but it can last much longer on shaded areas of roadways. Bridges and overpasses are danger spots: since they do not receive as much heat from the ground and lose more heat to the air, they can drop below freezing even when the rest of the roadway doesn’t.

Ice forms on the road when the road surface temperature drops below freezing. The ground cools more slowly than the air and warms back more slowly as well, so even if the air temperature is above freezing, the roadway may still be frozen. This discrepancy between temperatures can lull drivers into a false sense of security: they hear the temperature on the morning news and think all’s well, when the road is still frozen.

When in doubt, wait it out

snowed3If you’re caught in a sudden severe snow or ice storm on one of Oregon’s major Interstates, pull into one of OTE’s rest areas. Take a break from the road wars and sip on a coffee or tea, or maybe a cat nap (with the dog of course). Our rest areas are open to the public during most severe winter storms unless the ice or snow conditions prevent plowing or de-icing. You can locate the nearest rest area by looking at our rest area location web page. We’ll also keep you up-to-date on any unexpected closures or traffic incidents that may affect rest area operations.
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