Jan 16 2015

Driving in that “White Stuff”

Utah snow

Why do we need to care about winter weather in Utah? The reason is that although winter weather may seem harmless, and oftentimes fleeting for the majority of the state, the underlying hazards can significantly impact everyday life.

Dangerously cold temperatures down into the teens and single digits, become much more dangerous to be outside for prolonged periods. Some of the major threats include wind Chill; a measure of what the temperature feels like when accounting for the wind speed. As the wind increases, more heat is able to be removed from your body by the wind. Frostbite is also a worry, which results from prolonged exposure to very cold air. Injury is caused by freezing body tissue; extremities such as the fingers and toes are the most susceptible to frostbite. Hypothermia is similar to frostbite which occurs when the body has been exposed to prolonged cold. The onset of hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops below 95°F.

So how does our winter weather affect our environment?  70% of winter weather related injuries are the result of vehicle accidents. A thick blanket of snow or ice on roads makes driving difficult, and a bad idea. If the road is covered by a blanket of snow, it is difficult to determine where the road ends and a ditch or other hazard begins; driving becomes even more perilous when two cars are attempting to travel down a road with no visible lanes, and inclined roads can become impassible. In the event of an accident, drivers may be stranded for many hours in harsh weather conditions waiting for assistance.

Freezing rain and sleet can dramatically worsen the driving hazard by creating a dangerously slick, icy road surface.  This condition then leads us to black ice which is a major hazard associated with frozen precipitation on roads, and it doesn’t begin until the storm has ended! When snow and ice begin to melt, the resultant liquid can linger on the roadways until night, and if temperatures fall below freezing can refreeze creating a thin sheet of ice that is impossible to see. It is called black ice because of the fact that it blends in with the road surface, and is very difficult to detect while driving.

Heavy snow can create dangerous driving conditions by severely limiting the visibility of drivers, sometimes to mere feet!. During moderate to heavy snowfall, visibilities can be reduced to as little as 0 to .25 miles. The lack of visibility combined with slick, snow covered roads greatly increases the probability of an accident. Avoid driving while you’re fatigued. Getting the proper amount of rest before taking on winter weather tasks reduces driving risks and vehicle related accidents.