Slow start today. Buddy had a difficult time getting me up. He woke me because he wanted to know who was chasing me. I was having a bad dream and it was the sort I needed to finish, if that makes any sense. By the time I did get up, it was snowing again.
I used to love snow. When I was a kid, it meant sledding and snowmen and building slides and fortresses out of the 10-ft tall piles of snow the plows left in the City Hall parking lot. If we were lucky, it meant a day off of school.
I didn’t live in snow for 3 1/2 years when I was stationed in Hawaii. I usually missed the snow when I visited home, but I can’t say I ever actually missed it. I missed the season changes. Constant green gets monotonous after a while. Then I got stationed in Alabama. It got colder than I was expecting for the South and we did have a big snow once (about 3-4 inches that stuck around for a whole week). But that was it. I drove home through snow a couple of times. It was a bit annoying but not a big deal. Then we got stationed in Virginia. Now I hate snow.
EVERY FREAKING YEAR it snows here. Every year. It isn’t a bad snow. No blizzards or white outs or anything. Maybe two or three serious snowfalls, no more than 6 inches. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed on social media but we’re in the middle of SNOWMAGGEDON, apparently. Now, further north in DC (a scant 3 hrs away), they’re getting 27 inches. Here? Same as usual. 4 inches, maybe 6 after today. So I’m experiencing my annual “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU JUST PLOW THE FREAKING ROADS AND LEARN TO DRIVE AND YOU WON’T NEED TO STOCK UP ON MILK AND BREAD AND PEOPLE CAN KEEP GOING TO WORK SO THE GROCERY STORES AREN’T CLOSED SO PEOPLE CAN’T GET MILK AND BREAD” episode.
The roads are a mess. Why? Because there are snowplows sitting on the side of the road because…well I don’t actually know why. But we did pass three or four on our way to the grocery store this afternoon. We drove on unplowed roads. They didn’t put down sand, let alone salt. And since no one is driving because “Virginia drivers are crazy in normal conditions, I don’t want to risk it in the snow,” the natural melt that happens when there are lots of cars on the road on a day we get above freezing (like today), simply doesn’t happen. Less traffic just means the snow gets packed down so that no ruts form. Without ruts, it is really difficult to tell where you are on the road. So the roads aren’t safe for a dozen reasons, mostly incompetence and media-fueled panic, so businesses are closing early so their employees can get home safe. Those businesses aren’t exactly posting online that they are closing early for the day, so we made our cautious way 45 min to our local store only to see a paper sign on the door stating that they had closed an hour ago.
Well, good. Take care of your people. Good thinking on your part and God bless you for your consideration to your employees.
Don’t mind me over here, screaming obscenities and chucking shopping carts into the stupid snow because I need to make soup because it is cold and I MUST. I am out of patience over here. This is DUMB. No, we don’t get a lot of snow here. But we DO get it, reliably, every year. The entire state shouldn’t shut down because of a few inches (which is anything less than 6, in case you were wondering). Especially if you know the storm is coming a week out. You, whoever you are, should have the snowplows ready to go before it starts. As soon as you see precipitation, there should be salt and sand on the pavement. Don’t sit on your freaking thumbs and cry about how it never does this so you don’t know how to respond. You do know how to respond because half of the country deals with this every year and you can ask them what they do when a storm is coming. I guarantee they don’t sit there staring at the mystical white stuff coming from the sky. They plow it and get on with their lives.
And here are some tips about driving in the snow, which I understand is a tricky skill that is difficult to develop when you only see the stuff once or twice a year. I grew up driving in this crap. Snow and ice has been the cause of several accidents in my family. These tips are only for snow-packed or icy roads. If there is pavement in direct contact with your tires, stay in the ruts, keep two hands on the wheel, and TRIPLE your following distance.
- Go slow. Starting and stopping. In fact, on icy roads, don’t stop if you can help it. My car is awful on slick roads, so I come to a rolling stop at stop signs (whenever it is safe) and at lights, I stop well back from the light so I can inch forward until it changes. If you lose momentum, you might get stuck. When the light turns green, however, let your wheels roll forward naturally before you hit the gas. Basically, just hesitate an extra second between the brake and the gas. If you just hit the gas, you’ll skid or dig in and get stuck. Also, cars coming the other way are going to skid through the lights because they’re afraid to brake, so definitely hesitate before you go through lights.
- Don’t brake if you can help it. Let friction slow you down whenever you can. The light turned red way up there? Foot off the gas and coast. If you must brake, be gentle. Tap the brakes and release. DO NOT slam on your brakes. If you have to brake fast, tap and release and look for an escape route. Do not assume that you can stop. Assume you can’t a be prepared to leave the road to avoid hitting someone else. Slamming on the brakes means skidding into the car in front of you and all the cars in front of them.
- Don’t tailgate. In icy conditions, you want lots of space between you and everyone else on the road. Double or Triple your following distance. That might sound extreme to you, but how many people actually keep to the 2-second rule? Yeah, no one. Lots of space means no sudden stops due to other drivers. When they stop ahead of you, you have tons of time to slow down regardless of the road conditions.
- Stay in the ruts. This is the opposite to safe driving in the rain. The ruts act a lot like train tracks, forcing your tires to follow a route of least resistance. It makes changing lanes tricky (expect skittering from your tires), but it makes for smoother driving. The downside is that if the road hasn’t been paved or the ruts aren’t worn down to the road, you’re basically driving on snow that is getting packed down into a fun layer of ice. So don’t drive too quickly and keep both hands on the wheel so you can feel instantly if your tires are losing friction.
- Are you starting to skid? DON’T PANIC. Also, don’t slam on the brakes or spin the steering wheel to compensate. If you catch it early enough and aren’t driving too fast, all you have to do is take your foot off the gas. Then gently apply gas until you get back in control (little pulses only). If you are going fast, do the same thing. Foot off the gas. The best thing is to just let it go if you can. Professional drivers usually just spin off the track rather than try to stop the skid, which is fine if they have an airfield of space to work with. You probably won’t. So don’t speed, stay off the interstate, and hope you don’t spin out. I’ll be honest, high speed spin out scares the jeepers out of me. Best to avoid it. (Buddy, who also grew up in Snow Country, says to steer into the skid, which is the opposite of what you think you should do. This is sound advice, if you can remember that.)
- What else? Hmmm. Keep your lights on. Use your turn signals. Keep cat litter in your car to help you get unstuck if need be. Be hyper aware of the road under your tires and the people sharing your road.