Monday, December 13, 2010

Winter Driving in the Midwest

Winter driving in the midwest can be a white knuckle endeavor unless you are used to driving in snow, ice and generally dramatic winter weather. I can't say that I've ever been really nervous except for the time I was driving home in a total white-out event.

In that instance the most unnerving sensation was the fact that I could not get my bearings. In a total white-out you seem to lose the sense of which way is up. That day the fog and snow lifted for a few moments, allowing me to spot some fence posts on the right hand side of the road. In great McGuyver fashion I mentally calculated the approximate distance that the fences would be from the road and used that to position my vehicle in order to stay on the roadway. It was quite tense and not something I'd care to repeat.

Then there was the famous RUMBLE IN THE CORNFIELD.

Take a moment to read about that experience. It was a doozie!!!

You've probably been seeing reports on the weather channel about the big winter storms roaring across the upper midwest. It took down a football stadium and yes, it has the power to do those kinds of things.

A friend and I headed out for the food store yesterday afternoon with the intentions of picking up some things to tide us over in case the storms continued. We'd had a small amount of snow but yesterday morning the winds picked up to gusts of 40 MPH and more. That means indcredible blowing and drifting snow.

I had my friend and co-pilot man the camera so that we could show you a few things about the dynamics of wind and snow. Here's the video:

Notice how the telephone poles are leaning after years of being bombarded by the wind.

Here's what happened after my friend stopped filming. There were three snowplows in a row, one after the other. The first one passed and the drifting snow was creating a white out condition. Luckily the snowplows are very brightly colored and have strobe lights flashing so I was able to determine where my lane was. However, because of the white out conditions we could not see that we were driving right into a 3 foot snow drift. Trapped. Stuck in the unseeable.

The third snowplow passed us just as we hit the drift. He saw what happened and backed up to help us. That DOES NOT MEAN he got out of his truck. You do not leave your vehicle in a case like this. You want the protection of a couple thousand pounds of steel in case someone else comes along and slides in your direction. This applies to rain or other types of emergencies. You do not want to be standing unprotected on a roadway.


He rolled down his window and guided me into straightening out my wheels so that I could rock back and forth - car in drive, car in reverse, car in drive, car in reverse, until we were released from the drift. We backed up and the plow passed us, which allowed us to move over to the wrong side of the road which the three trucks had just plowed. This was safe because there were no other cars approaching from either direction.

Up we drove, another 1/4 mile or so, until we reached a place to turn around..... AND GO BACK HOME!!

The most important thing in any situation of this type is to realize that you are putting yourself in danger. If your gutt tells you it's dangerous - listen! There was no reason to continue. There was nothing at the food store that was worth risking our safety. The main road would have been even more treacherous because of the thousands of acres of open cornfields on either side. Those roads can drift shut literally MINUTES after the plows have gone through.

The second thing is not to panic. There would have been no purpose to gunning the engine, either trying to muscle my way through the drift or attempting to fly backwards out of it. As the plow driver knew, slow and steady will get you out. (This did NOT apply in the Rumble in the Cornfield event).

So, here's what I propose. Those of you who live in warmer climates are welcome to come north and I'll provide a winter driving class. What do you think? All the hot chocolate you can drink!!


Heksedamen said...

This looks very much like everyday winter weather in Norway this time of year. I'm scared dead everytime I have to go by car :)

Susan said...

It's been years since I have had to drive in that "stuff". Never liked it. I so remember the fear of coming to a stop sign or light on those roads and not knowing if I really could stop. It's crazy. I don't need that anymore. Come on south Suzanne!!!

Donna said...

Wow, so glad you made it back home safely. Don't think I'll be as quick to complain about our winter weather in Western Mass. Not as much open space in our area, so running into snow drifts not an issue. We often get freezing rain, snow, rain, sleet storms which are hard to shovel or snowplow. Driving on ice is, well, quite frankly, impossible.
I do remember my folks putting chains on tires for winter, wonder if anyone still does that?!

Stay safe ;)

Tess said...

I agree with Susan. Rather than we come north, you should come south. I think it was 75 degrees yesterday.

Leslie T. said...

I've driven in snow, and on ice, and hope to never have to do it again. We slid into people's front yards, slid off the side of a mountain.... that was not a fun place to live as far as I was concerned.
I agree with you that you need to go with your gut, and if possible stay home when the weather is that bad.
I'm glad you made it home safely! What an experience!!!

Vee said...

I'm still in shock that we got five inches of rain instead of snow yesterday. The temps are going to drop throughout the day, but it's currently 45F. Not so bad.

Though I've driven in snow all my adult life, I still white knuckle it and, in fact, must take mother to her doctor's appt. in Portland and am not looking forward to the drive there either since it's supposed to get cold and the pools of water will, of course, freeze. Ugh.

Thanks for the good advice..."stay home."

Lisa D. said...

Haha, Chocolatechic is asking about winter storms on her blog this morning, too. Living in the north, we get our share of winter storms, but we really do not get the kind of winter storms and snow blowing as on the prairies. I've spent time on the prairies and I will take the bush any day. I don't like driving when the road and ditch all look the same. I don't like driving when we've had a big snowfall and the snow is so deep that your only hope of getting down the road is that you don't have to meet any other vehicles because there is only one path through and you'll get stuck if you pull over. And the bottom of your car is dragging in the snow, so the snow gets packed in underneath and the car doesn't want to run.
More and more I'm beginning to understand my Grandpa - for many years my grandparents left Canada in October, drove to Texas, then came back in April.

Mari said...

I grew up in that kind of stuff, but have been away for 27 years. I am not sure I even remember what to I may take you up on your offer! :)

Steph said...

I'm glad the entire state of Alabama shuts down when a dusting of snow is forecasted.

Anonymous said...

Live in Minnesota just went through a snow storm with high winds...good to see read you made it home...not sure where you are at in the Midwest maybe you got some of Minnsota's storm?

Maureen said...

I can deal with the cold (having grown up in Canada) and driving is something I re-acclimated to every season but storms and ice are so nerve wracking. I am glad that you are safe and sound.

Yolanda said...

You can have this winter weather it isn't for me. I grew up a southern gir. I admire you bravery in driving in this weather. Stay warm and safe.