I am writing this column a few days earlier than I normally pen it because I am trying to get out of the office a few hours early to beat the winter storm that is bearing down on Southern Idaho.
I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that none of us like to travel on stormy days, especially snowy days where the visibility is bad to begin with and can diminish to zero in the worst part of a storm. We have been blessed with many bad weather experiences over the years but driving during an ice storm has got to be the absolute worst.
In Iowa the weather does some crazy things, with freezing rain being the most unpredictable. My first experience with freezing rain and ice storms came only a few months after we moved to Iowa. The weather forecasts had predicted a bad storm with freezing rain coming at the peak of the storm. I was a little put off by my staff suggesting that we needed to finish up the paper and get home as soon as possible, but I had my doubts. How could it be any worse than driving on snow packed roads in the west?
Still, we did finish up early and everybody but me took off for home. After a couple more hours of catching up on work I decided to head for home. It was still light outside but as I pulled out of the parking lot I realized that my delay would be costly. Rain that was falling on my windshield was instantly freezing and rain that fell on the roads had literally turned them into skating rinks.
At the time I was driving a full-sized car with rear wheel drive which became my enemy as I drove along the bypass road that would prove the quickest way home. The fastest I could drive without sliding off the road was about 15 miles-per-hour, turning the normal ten-minute drive home to about an hour. Nobody else was stupid enough to be on the roads in those conditions so there wasn’t any traffic to contend with.
As I approached the turnoff to my subdivision I began to panic. Driving in a straight line was challenging enough but trying to get the front tires to grip enough of the road to allow me to turn was next to impossible. Failing to hit the entrance of the cul-de-sac would drop me into a ravine about twenty feet deep, so I elected to pass it by. The next turnoff was the entrance to the Zion Lutheran Church, so I went for broke and was able to make it into their parking lot.
This left me about a football field from my house, so I set out on foot to get out of the weather. Cutting through a backyard wasn’t a problem because the snow on the grass would cushion my steps, but when I got to the road I lived on I had to practically sit down on my kiester and slide down the street to my house, which was at the end of the street. Once inside my home I vowed to never ignore the advice of people who have lived their entire lives dealing with weather such as this.
On the weekend we moved from Iowa to Idaho we encountered a similar storm. We left our moving van late in the afternoon and drove west in a driving rain. The further west we drove the worse the conditions became. We finally took an exit near the town of Omaha, Nebraska, where we stayed for the night. As we exited the freeway we encountered sheets of ice on the off ramp as well as the side streets. The constant truck traffic on the interstate had kept it from completely freezing over – up to that point at least.
The next morning, we awoke to a blanket of snow and ice. The road crews had worked all night to clear off the roads, so we were able to get back on our way. What we didn’t expect to see was the number of semi-tractor trailers that had crashed during the night. My estimate would be in the many dozens that had either slid off the roads or completely smashed up their rigs, destroying the goods they were hauling.
After seeing the first dozen off the road we began to worry that perhaps our moving truck would be one of the semi-trucks that were smashed up. With each crash we passed we got that knot in our stomachs that you get when bad news is coming. Fortunately, we never did pass our moving van and our furniture arrived a few days later, just as we had packed it earlier in the week.
One last snow story deals with dealing with the unexpected. While headed to the Salt Lake Airport a few years ago – in a snowstorm – I began to follow a little red Chevrolet Caviler automobile. The roads were completely snow packed but as long as you didn’t do anything stupid there wasn’t a problem. As we approached Tremonton a highway patrol car pulled onto the cross-over from the north bound lane, doing so right behind the red car. Unfortunately, that driver panicked and instead of navigating the next turn in the freeway she lost control and crashed into the guardrail.
There is no doubt that the Highway Patrol officer caused her to lose her focus on the road and crash her car. I can guarantee that the cop wasn’t going after her, he was simply turning around, but she didn’t’ know that. Yet another lesson learned – keep your eyes on the road, not on the cop behind you.