WASHINGTON, D. C. (Tuesday, February 2, 2021) –– Drivers and pedestrians should always be aware of - and on the lookout for - “black ice” on roadways, sidewalks or driveways. They ought to keep their eyes peeled for ice accumulations of a light glaze that sculpted overnight. That almost invisible thin layer of ice on roadways can quickly cause drivers to lose control of their vehicles and cause deadly crashes. Black ice is “most prevalent during the early morning hours, especially after snow melt on the roadways has a chance to refreeze over night when the temperature drops below freezing,” warns the National Weather Service.
Black ice can spawn frightening spinouts – “a rotational skid by an automobile that usually causes it to leave the roadway,” warns AAA Mid-Atlantic. Owing to its very nature, it is so slippery and undetectable to the naked eye. It can trigger deadly and injurious falls for pedestrians. The thing is, black ice, which is not really black, “forms when rain or snow falls,” meteorologists muse.
Given its cloak of invisibility, it is a “dangerous type of ice.” Forming on roads, it is so thin that it “cannot be seen by a driver.” Winter precipitation poses potential dangers like black ice. It can trigger severe and deadly crashes on roadways, on traffic lanes, and in roundabouts. For those afoot, it can cause accidental slips and broken bones on sidewalks, walkways, driveways and in road crossings. “Black ice can also form when roadways are slick from rain and temperatures drop below freezing overnight,” cautions the National Weather Service (NWS). Sometimes, black ice occurs on highways when the heat of tires on the asphalt mixes with freezing conditions.
“In fact, the idiomatic expression ‘black ice’ is a misnomer. It gets its name from the fact that it is a colorless, thin and clear ice coating, in actuality. It is a clear and present danger. It is difficult to see, especially on wet roadways, and, ergo, its deceptiveness and its danger, especially for motorists driving much too fast for road conditions and without an abundance of caution in the elements,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “So, it behooves motorists to reduce speeds and pedestrians to watch their steps, when temperatures are around freezing, that is to say, around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, as meteorologists are warning.”
Après snow risks abound. Confounding things, although it is mostly invisible, pavement with black ice will be a little darker and duller than the rest of the road surface. Here is the thing, black ice can form almost anywhere under the right conditions. But some places are more likely to freeze this way compared to others.
By dint of definition, “black ice is a nearly transparent film of ice on a dark surface (such as a paved road or a body of water) that is difficult to see.” That’s the rub, or the inherent danger. “Black ice is dangerous because of its transparency, which means drivers are unlikely to see it while approaching,” explain road safety advocates. “Roads become slippery and black ice can lead to hazardous driving conditions and a greater risk of crashes.”
Avoid Slip Sliding Away: How To Drive And Survive During Black Ice Conditions
“Black ice is a deadly driving hazard defined as patchy ice on roadways or other transportation surfaces that cannot easily be seen:” NWS. “It is often clear (not white) with the black road surface visible underneath.” Black ice can materialize quickly and anywhere.
- Pavement with black ice will be slightly darker and duller than the rest of the road surface; ice commonly forms on highly shaded areas, infrequently traveled roads, bridges and overpasses. Weather and roadway surface conditions are factors in 15.6% of road fatalities.
- Use your low-beam headlights in ice driving conditions and during freezing rain.
- Use extreme caution on bridges and overpasses, which typically freeze first and melt last. Even if the roadway leading up to a bridge appears to be fine, use caution, as the bridge itself could be covered in a sheet of ice. Even so, 2.6 percent of crashes during adverse conditions occur on roads with ice.
- Stop “Slip, sliding away.” Drive, turn and brake slowly, adjusting speed to road conditions and leaving ample stopping room (three times more than usual) and watching for brakelights, fishtailing or sideways cars that could indicate freezing roads, and emergency flashers.
- Vehicle tires struggle to maintain traction on ice. When driving in slippery conditions, avoid braking on ice. If you approach a patch of ice, try to brake in advance. If you skid, don’t panic or freak-out.Control the skid by easing off the accelerator and steering in the direction you want the front of the car to go.
- If you have antilock brakes, do not pump the pedal; the vibrations and pulsating against your foot when you press down are the system working when your vehicle loses traction.
- Braking bad and good. For drivers without antilock brakes, use “threshold braking,” keeping your heel on the floor and using the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the pedal to the “threshold” of locking your brakes; removing your heel from the floor could cause your brakes to lock.
- Avoid unnecessarily changing lanes while driving, which increases your chances of hitting a patch of ice between lanes that could cause you to lose control of the vehicle. Expect to take more time during winter driving. Around 3 percent of crashes during inclement weather conditions occur on roads with snow.
- Never use cruise control during winter driving, especially when there is a strong chance of ice and slippery conditions.
- Remember, four-wheel drive doesn’t help you stop any faster. Your four-wheel-drive vehicle will still lose traction when driving in icy conditions.
- Keep a winter weather kit in your car, containing an ice scraper, blanket, flashlight with extra batteries, bag of kitty litter, shovel and charged cell phone, as well as reflective triangles or flares, cloth or paper towels and jumper cables, etc. More than 40 percent of motorists fail to carry an emergency kit in their vehicle.
- Invest in the right tires. Winter tires are your best bet when driving during freezing weather.
What Is Black Ice?
The term “black ice” is a “popular alternative for glaze,” imparts the Glossary of Meteorology. It is “a thin sheet of ice, relatively dark in appearance, may form when light rain or drizzle falls on a road surface that is at a temperature below 0°C” or “32°F. Despite its nickname, black ice is actually clear. It’s often compared to a “glaze” and can occur on all kinds of surfaces, especially roads, sidewalks and driveways.
Since black ice is transparent, it coats and blends into whatever it covers, and that’s part of what makes it so dangerous. Black ice is also extremely slippery, and it has several causes, including freezing rain and the melting and re-freezing of ice and snow. Black ice is an existential threat to drivers and pedestrians alike.
How Does Black Ice Form?
“Bridges and overpasses are prone to black ice because cold air is able to flow underneath the road surface, since it is elevated, therefore, lowering the pavement temperature,” The Weather Channel explains. “Shaded spots on the road are prone [too,] since they receive less warmth from the sun during the day.” The roads beneath overpasses, and at the bottoms of hills are other common places. Black ice also evolves more often during early morning and at night, when there’s no sun and the temperatures tend to be colder.
Homeowners must deal with black ice on their property and sidewalks. “The risk of slips and fall injuries – one million folks a year – increases dramatically during the winter months.” Around the house, paved driveways and shaded walkway, and sidewalks are susceptible to the formation of black ice. Even so, “It may also be formed when super-cooled fog droplets are intercepted by buildings, fences, and vegetation,” notes the American Meteorological Society. Black ice can also “occur when no precipitation occurs such as when pre-existing water freezes or dew freezes on the road.”
Here is the upshot. Black ice poses a danger to drivers and a peril to pedestrians alike. As a snapshot: “Over 116,000 people in the United States are injured and more than 1,300 are killed on snowy, slushy or icy roads every winter,” according to Powerblanket.com.
Some cold, hard facts. “Around 24% of weather-related vehicle crashes happen on snowy, slushy or icy roads annually. Even so, 15% happen during snowfall or sleet. Each year, around 900 people are killed and almost 76,000 people are injured in car wrecks during snowfall or sleet.”
“If roadways are wet – from rain, melting snow, etc. – when the temperature drops under 32 degrees Fahrenheit, black ice can form.” Another cause is when “moisture in the air condenses and forms dew or fog, and then the temperature drops below freezing.” Keeping an eye and ear on weather reports is a must in the winter, and investing in your own thermometer is a grand idea too. Temperatures can vary from location to location, from locality to locality, from street to street, and from zip code to zip code.
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