WASHINGTON, D. C. (Wednesday, February 17, 2021) –– Déjà vu. Washington metro area residents and motorists have an uncanny sense of it. They must rely upon it because a thin coating of ice or rime can wreak destruction on roadways. Once again it’s time to prepare for the next round of wintry weather, with snow spanning 1,600 miles, even as folks are still cleaning up from last weekend’s winter storm, and the damage it did to trees and power lines across the region. Brace yourself for severe weather, treacherous roads and sidewalks, bad visibility and poor driving and walking conditions. Keep COVID-19 protections in mind.
“Travel could be nearly impossible,” warns the National Weather Service (NWS). A wintry storm this keen can increase the risks of spinouts and rollovers, and trigger fish-tailing - when the rear end of a vehicle slides back and forth - into a lane of oncoming traffic, warns AAA. More chillingly, such conditions can spawn massive vehicle pile-ups, setting off a deadly chain reaction of rear-end crashes, as manifested in Texas. No one ever wants to become involved in a crash, stranded on the roadside, or caught at home without power. “The hazardous conditions could impact the morning or evening commute,” forewarns the NWS. “Power outages and tree damage are likely due to the ice.” Once torn asunder, trees and power lines can crash into homes and upon traffic lanes and sidewalks, “increasing the likelihood of significant damage” or injury.
All it takes is “a half an inch of ice” plus winds and williwaws, warn meteorologists with the National Weather Service. In fact, “a 1/2-inch accumulation of ice on power lines can add 500 pounds of extra weight.” Don’t stand, walk, drive or park under ice-laden trees or ice-covered power lines. What is more, “Children should never play around ice-covered trees; they may be injured if a branch breaks under the weight of the ice and falls on them.” Being prepared is essential ahead of a storm, advises AAA Mid-Atlantic. If you must go, keep the coronavirus pandemic in mind and keep masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes in your car.
“Let the driver, homeowner and pedestrian beware and prepare,” noted John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Approximately 512 fatal crashes occurred during snow/sleet weather conditions in the United States in 2018, and 173 of those fatal crashes transpired in the dark of night, according to weather-related crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Such fatal crashes can occur in a blink of an eye on weather-slick roads.”
The conditions will prove challenging even for “Ice Road Truckers,” who supposedly have “nerves of steel” along deadly ice crossings. Here are the rules of the road. “Ice storms can be particularly dangerous because the freezing rain makes an icy glaze on roads and other outdoor surfaces,” warn highway safety advocates. So far during the winter months of 2021, both the Virginia State Police (VSP) and the Maryland State Police have responded to hundreds of snow-related and ice-related crashes. Even so, the Virginia State Police responded to 252 weather-related traffic crashes and 231 SOS calls for disabled vehicles across the Commonwealth by 2:30 p.m., Sunday, January 31 alone. The Maryland State Police responded to 505 crashes and 245 Mayday calls for disabled vehicles, from 8 a.m. Sunday, January 31 to 5 a.m. Tuesday, February 2.
What is more, on Super Bowl Sunday, Maryland State Troopers responded to “52 crashes, 14 disabled vehicles, and 235 calls for service from across the state, from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m., February 7.” Icy weather caused nearly 400 crashes statewide in Virginia, from 12 a.m. through 9 p.m. Saturday, February 12, reports the Virginia State Police. Plus, Virginia State Troopers with the VSP’s Fairfax Division responded to 93 traffic crashes and 42 disabled vehicles. Remember the old bromide: “It is better to be safe than sorry.”
The National Weather Service is forecasting: “Total snow accumulations around 3 to 6 inches with ice accumulation around one tenth to one quarter of an inch.” It will transmute to sleet and freezing rain. “It is not a fit night out for man or beast,” or day, for that matter. So SOS calls will multiply. AAA roadside rescuers are gearing up for another surge of cold-weather emergency roadside assistance calls. Motorists are more likely to experience dead car batteries or tire issues when the temperature drops and hoarfrost covers the trees, in addition to the increased risk of slide-offs due to slippery roads, warns AAA Roadside Assistance.
“Area motorists, as well as pedestrians, are urged to avoid venturing out during inclement weather conditions. If you are deemed essential personnel, be prepared for driving on slick roads,” advises Bruce Jenkins, Manager, AAA Roadside Assistance Fleet Depot. “Road icing is a big red flag for all drivers, ‘even if you are skilled at maneuvering your car down ice-covered streets and highways.’ Many may end up wishing they’d stayed at home because it is so dangerous. Bear in mind, the last place you would want to be under these conditions is stranded or stalled on the side of the road or stuck on icy, freezing and slick roadways.”
Freezing rain and ice will prove challenging for area motorists, residents and pedestrians even before they attempt to leave home, advise Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certified technicians at AAA Car Care Centers. It can be frustrating finding yourself frozen out of your vehicle or attempting to tread icy or impassable sidewalks, driveways, and pedestrian crosswalks. “Sidewalks and driveways could prove icy and slippery, increasing your risk of a fall and injury.” Make sure your tires are good to go. Get your car in shape for the winter storm – much like we bundle ourselves up and make sure we’re physically ready for the weather, your car needs some hands-on preparation too, advise area AAA Car Care Centers.
“It is axiomatic. Snowy and icy conditions can transform roadways into danger zones. Drivers should not get complacent and think just because some roads remained slushy last week that those same roads will not be a sheet of ice this time. Prepare now for the winter weather that is expected across the region,” explained James Moore, AAA Fairfax Car Care Center Manager. “So many of us run out for groceries ahead of a storm, but don’t forget to fill your gas tank and prepare your car in case it becomes encased in ice during the storm.”
Uh-oh. “Dangerous winter weather confronts nearly 160 million across US.” West Virginia tiered the list of the “10 worst states for weather-related fatal crashes.” That’s according to a 2021 study by the insurance industry. Virginia ranked 35th on the list, and Maryland emerged 43rd in the rankings. West Virginia had the “highest number of weather-related fatal crashes per million drivers in the United States,” the study revealed.
Oh-oh. The tally includes rain-related fatal crashes, snow/sleet fatal crashes, and fatal crashes in other weather conditions. The study shows an average of at least three fatal crashes occurred under snow/sleet weather conditions each in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. By the way, both the Washington metro area and the Baltimore-Washington metro area include parts of West Virginia, which include counties in West Virgina, such as the outlining subdivisions in Jefferson County and the Eastern Panhandle.
Prepare a COVID-19-equipped emergency roadside for your vehicle. Keep a storm emergency kit in your home. Think about your current driving environment. Just because the conditions might have improved on main roads, country roads or bridges might still be hazardous due to less traffic or because they've not been treated by road crews, advises AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Avoid driving on icy roads for your safety and the safety of emergency personnel.” Beware of tree-lined routes, roads that don’t see much sun, and tunnels too. “Tunnels often contain continuous groundwater seepage which can coat roadways with ice during subfreezing conditions, even if no precipitation has fallen.” As the National Weather Service (NWS) warns, “If the temperature outside is near freezing, it is safest to assume ice is present on roadways, and drive accordingly.”
Tips for Preparing You Vehicle for Freezing Rain and Ice:
- If you don’t have a garage, park your car in a carport. It will give a vehicle some protection from the elements. If you have no choice but to park outside; avoid parking under power lines, trees, and anything that might fall or drop ice and damage the vehicle.
- Park your car facing the east. The morning sun, even if it’s cold outside, might help melt the ice off of your vehicle. Every little bit helps when it comes to melting the ice.
- Consider using de-icing spray on your windshield or covering it with a snow shield so that the snow and ice can’t bond to the window. Never pour hot liquids onto a windshield as the extreme temperature differences could cause it to crack and break.
- Cars only need about 30 seconds to warm up the engine components, but if your vehicle is frozen over, let it run longer to help loosen the ice. Never start or run a vehicle in a garage without proper ventilation. Make sure to clear all of the snow and ice off of a vehicle before setting out.
- Turn off your windshield wipers when you get out of the car. If they become frozen to the vehicle while in the on position, you can cause damage to the wipers when you start the vehicle.
- Consider covering the wipers with plastic bags or propping them away from the window so they don’t freeze to the glass.
- Wipe down doorjamb gaskets with silicon spray before the storm hits. It could keep the ice from bonding to the gasket rubber. Note: Check your vehicle owner’s manual and the product label to make sure it doesn’t pose a risk of causing damage to your vehicle.
- If the door lock is frozen, heating the tip of the key might help melt it enough to get the keep into the slot. Forcing it in can cause damage to the lock. A few squirts of de-icing spray will also melt the ice out of the lock. Make sure to keep your de-icing spray with you or inside your home, not in the car, or you won’t have access to it if the vehicle is frozen solid.
Assemble or replenish a COVID-ready emergency roadside kit BEFORE you need it:
Emergency kit items to include – deicer, shovel, ice scraper, sand or kitty litter (for traction) and extra masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes to protect you from COVID-19. The latter items are necessary to help you stay safe if you do seek help in a public place and come into contact with others.
- Pack a blanket, extra gloves and hat, heavy coat – If you’re stuck on the road for an extended period of time you’ll need to stay warm, especially if your vehicle is not running.
- Pack snacks, beverages, etc. – Have them packed by the door to take in the morning (so they don’t freeze in the car overnight).
- Charge your cell phone and laptops– Have a backup power source for the car in case you’re stuck for a while. Have several ways to communicate with others: landline phones, social media, and texting.”
- Make sure your windshield wipers and lights (headlights, taillights, and turn signals) are working properly – Make sure you can see and can be seen.
- Keep a FULL tank of gas.
Safety on the Road
Whether you have a long commute to work or just need to drive a short distance to the store, preparation is key to making the trip safely. For more information on ways to prepare your vehicle for the winter weather visit 5 Ways to Prepare Your Vehicle for Winter Weather Travels.
Check your wallet to make sure your AAA membership is active and that the coverage level meets your current needs. AAA offers multiple levels of coverage and also special savings on memberships for first responders and teachers. Visit AAA.com to learn more.
Check in for free battery checks at AAA Car Care, Insurance and Travel Centers in the metro area. Drivers can see firsthand whether their car battery is strong enough to withstand the bitter cold. Pandemic shutdowns in 2020 left many cars idle for weeks or months at a time. It may accelerate battery failures in the cold and the wintry.
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AAA provides automotive, travel and insurance services to 60 million members nationwide and nearly 82,000 members in the District of Columbia. AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years. The not-for-profit, fully tax-paying member organization works on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit http://aaa.com