Last month alone, traffic was at a standstill for more than nine hours, hundreds of drivers were stranded and more than 100 car accidents happened in one day. Even worse, all this damage occurred with just one inch of snow.
The roads were so cold that this thin layer of snow instantly froze when it hit the cold concrete, causing it to turn entire roads and highways into slippery sheets of ice. Any highway that started with “IH” was backed up from six to nine hours. Exit and entrance ramps with ice were entirely blocked off. Most drivers gave up, left their cars in the winter weather and walked to shelter.
Firstly, one inch of snow can in fact be more dangerous than feet of snow. The concrete is old enough that a layer of snow freezes on it instantly, without freezing in air bubbles, so the ice blends perfectly. This helps create black ice and can be particularly dangerous in the evening.
Moreover, there was a “mass weather-enterprise-wide communication failure,” as news media outlets are calling it. The media has been so focused on the oncoming blizzard that it failed to effectively communicate the hazards of icy roads in the days leading up to the blizzard.
This media failure lead to D.C. road crews to believe that all resources could be focused on preparing for the blizzard and stockpiling salt and other ice melting chemicals, rather than deploying them during the snowfall. Another factor the city did not bear in mind is statistically, the first snowfall is always the most dangerous as drivers are out of practice for driving on slick roads.
When expecting bad winter weather, you should always ensure your car is properly maintained. Keep food, water and an extra coat in your car at all times, just in case you get stranded (many D.C. residents were forced to leave the shelter of their cars during the snowfall). Carry other supplies that could help if you are stuck, such as an ice scraper, a flashlight, a few flares and jumper cables. If you do become stranded, clear any snow in or around your exhaust pipe.
If you are driving on particularly icy roads, drive slower than you normally would and far slower than the speed limit. If you hit a patch of ice, remain calm, remove your foot off of the gas pedal and keep your steering as straight as possible. If your car begins to veer, turn into the slide rather than in the opposite direction in order to correct it.
Koonz, McKenney, Johnson, DePaolis & Lightfoot LLP is a personal injury law firm that helps victims who were injured in car crashes in the Washington, Virginia and Maryland areas.