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Published January 28, 2014

Traveling in Snow: Four Tips For the Raleigh Region

I‘ve been living in North Carolina for twenty years now. Before that, I lived in places like Houston and Minneapolis, but I spent most of my early life in Albany, New York. It was there I learned about the beauty and danger of snow.

I grew up watching mighty plows shove piles of it to the side of the road. Unlucky cars would be covered. The snowbanks were tall enough for kids to ski down, over and over. And then the bus would arrive, and they would all go to school with no trouble at all.

I moved to North Carolina at the beginning of my teen years. What a difference! At the first hint of snowfall, supermarkets were raided, schools were closed, and fear of all things flaky and cold caused more problems than the snow itself. In twenty years, this hasn’t changed. So I’m here now to let everyone know that it’s okay, we don’t have to fear snow. We can go out on the roads. We don’t have to shut everything down.

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Here’s a few reasons why.

 

1: It won’t stick to the roads right away

Snow is just another form of ice. Tiny, flaky, teeny-weenie bits of ice. Water freezes at 32 degrees and during the day the ground soaks up sunlight, and like a Turkey pulled out of the oven, it takes longer to cool than the air around it.

For snow to “stick,” the ground has to become cold enough to hold it. This doesn’t happen as fast as you might think.

Roads take even longer to freeze over than the dirt and grass. Well-traveled streets stay warm by absorbing heat cast off from the friction of car tires. Any residual heat melts snow on contact. It takes hours after the sun sets for roads to start icing over, and the busiest roadways may not get any ice patches at all.

 

2: Snow on the ground increases visibility

One of the major pluses for snow is that it’s very reflective. Although heavy flurries may impair visibility the same way a heavy rain can, snow on the ground will reflect a lot more light.

Traveling by night is much safer for drivers and pedestrians alike. On a clear sunny day, snow can reflect so much light you might see stars. It’s called “snow blindness,” and it happens a lot up north. Be sure to have have sunglasses handy.

 

3: Kids are actually safer riding in a school bus

School buses are heavier than your car, have wider wheels, are more easily spotted by other motorists, and are set higher off the ground than most things they could collide with. The drivers have to earn a commercial license and go through extensive safety training.

School buses are like brightly colored tanks, and a couple of inches of snow will not stop them. If you have any fears about letting your child go to school on a snowy day, let them be at rest now.

 

4: You can still drive on snow-covered roads

Traveling in Snow-- 4 Tips For the Raleigh Region - 1Snow is at its most dangerous when it packs tight and ice coats the top like icing on a cake. (That’s actually why it’s called “icing.”) Fortunately for Triangle residents, snow doesn’t often fall for a long enough period of time to get that way and make roads truly hazardous. On the off chance it does fall hard enough to pack tight, there’s a few things to keep in mind if you need to drive over it:

  • Follow the path of the car ahead of you whenever possible. The more cars there are following the same path, the more likely the hard snow will start melting.
  • Don’t make sudden turns or switch lanes often. You don’t want to give your car any excuse to start slipping and sliding.
  • Never slam the brakes. Gently tap them as you get closer to your stopping point to test your car’s stability, and apply more pressure when you feel confident you can come to a full stop.
  • Make sure that once you come to a stop, you can start up again without getting stuck. This is especially important in areas with lots of hills.

 

Traveling through snow can be dangerous, but you can always make it safer with knowledge and caution. Happy journeys!

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  • Greg Trombley

    Greg

  • I'm an RDU-based novelist and passionate champion of scientific progression. Nature and science live side-by-side in my heart. I clean dinosaur bones in my spare time, and love reading about local history. All my articles.

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