Commonwealth Journal

November 13, 2012

Icy roads only a few degrees away

By CHRIS HARRIS, CJ Staff Writers
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

Baby, it’s cold outside — or it’s getting there, anyway.
The overnight hours Tuesday brought the first significant dip into wintery temperatures that we’ve seen so far, with water hardening and frost forming on windshields. Along with this came a warning to watch out for black ice — particularly since it had rained so heavy earlier Monday.
“It won’t be long until we start dealing with some ice issues,” said Lt. Shannon Smith of the Somerset Police Department. His agency helps watch over the roadways in tough weather conditions, and will be doing so even more now, with almost 50 new miles of roadway having been annexed into the city earlier this year.
Things will warm up later this week, according to Dustin Harbage, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Jackson, Ky., but not enough to really change the fact that the colder season has arrived. Harbage said that while Monday night/Tuesday morning was “probably the coldest night of the week with lows around 27 degrees, those numbers won’t get out of the high 20s or low 30s for the near future — in valleys, it may go into the low 20s, he said.
Smith noted that driving went well despite the potential for slick road conditions, with no more calls about automobile accidents than any normal day. However, as snow becomes more and more likely, it’s important to note that morning isn’t the most dangerous time of day.
“Where we typically have problems is with those midday snows that catch everybody off-guard,” said Smith. “When you’re already at work or school, in your normal conduct, then the snow comes and you got to go pick kids up or go to the store or run errands, that’s when we have a large number of accidents.
“When the snow comes overnight, there are not as many people on the road, or they may limit their activities so they don’t have to drive,” he added.
Smith said that as drivers ready themselves for winter weather, the important rule to remember is — change your mindset along with the calendar.
“Probably the biggest issue we have with accidents is with people trying to drive like they normally do in good weather, (but) when the weather is not so normal,” he said. “Whether is be a foggy morning or a rainy day or snow and the potential of ice, the biggest thing is to allow for extra time either to get to work or drop the kids off at school, or whatever the day entails.
“If they allowed just a little extra time to drive more cautiously during the inclement weather, that would decrease their chances of having an accident while they’re driving,” he said. “You just can’t treat abnormal driving conditions with normal routines. It’s just not going to work.”
The problem of “black ice” arises whenever there’s visible moisture and the temperatures dip below the freezing mark.
“It could be an area of the roadway that doesn’t drain well that causes just a little bit of pooling water to freeze,” said Smith. “When it’s snow, it’s easy to see. We recognize those patches of snow and ice on the road. When it’s clear water that has frozen on a dark road, it’s sometimes impossible to see.”
Smith noted that it only takes about three-sixteenths of an inch of water to cause a vehicle to hydroplane, and is “sure it’s even less when it comes to ice.”
In other words, take your time and drive accordingly. Once again, don’t push it the way you would when the weather is nice.
“If there’s moisture and the temperatures are low, you’ve got to assume there’s black ice out there,” said Smith. “You can’t just look and say, ‘Oh, there’s a patch of ice,’ you’ve got to presume the ice is there when it’s below freezing.”
It also helps to perform proper tire upkeep and maintenance — specifically, making sure you have proper tread on your tires.
“That will make the difference,” he said. “Also, a properly inflated tire is going to be doing what it’s supposed to be doing.”
Though all the new roadways — many of them more rural and treacherous than downtown city streets — may present a challenge for the police department, Smith knows his agency is up to the task.
“One thing in our favor is (the new roads) are all state roadways,” he said. “We have to stand up and give a big thanks every year to not only out city street department but the state highway department. Both of those two groups do a great job keeping the snow removed and the ice at a minimum. It doesn’t take very long before the roads are passable against and traffic is able to get through, even on some of those rural sections of state highway.”