During the middle of one of the worst heat waves in recent years seems like a strange time to bring up the subject of road icing safety awareness. But in just two months, temperatures in the US will begin their annual decline, bringing the first icy roads to the highest mountain elevations by mid to late September.
We've seen how data shows that in the average year, icy roads kill and injure more people in the USA than ALL other weather hazards combined. But every so often, another weather danger will take center stage with an anomalously high casualty toll and human impact.
In 2005, it was a historically devastating hurricane season that overwhelmed other hazards in terms of deaths, injuries, property damage and human suffering - the majority of which, of course, came from Hurricane Katrina. Much like hurricanes did in 2005, tornadoes have done it in 2011. This year's astonishing number of violent tornado events in populated areas has resulted in four almost unheard of statistics:
one of the highest annual tornado death tolls in recent history
one of the single most deadly tornadoes in history (the Joplin, Missouri EF5)
one of the highest death tolls during a single outbreak of tornadoes (the April 27 southern outbreak)
a remarkably high number of cities/major metro areas directly hit by tornadoes (St. Louis; Minneapolis; Springfield, MA; Raleigh, NC; Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, AL; Louisville, KY; Joplin, MO; )
2011's big weather story, rightfully so, will be its tornado season. But a fact that will likely go unnoticed is that after winter is done, road icing will have claimed the same number of lives as this year's devastating tornadoes.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Let's work to change that this winter! Some ways you can help:
Remember that it is the light icing and snow events that are most deadly. Big ice storms and snowstorms already benefit from high public awareness and tend to have very few incidents. It's the more subtle events that cause the most accidents, deaths and injuries.
Media professionals, you can help raise awareness by emphasizing the icing hazard when it occurs in your broadcast area - and give it the same urgency you would a tornado warning.
National Weather Service, consider dedicating resources and facilitating operational changes to warn the public about the high danger from light icing and snow events.
Storm chasers and spotters, consider covering light ice and snow events this winter to increase awareness of the hazard in your local area, and report dangerous icing conditions to the NWS just as you would a tornado or large hail.
State highway departments, coordinate with the NWS during light ice and snow events and utilize resources to help warn drivers (electronic signs, email and text notifications, etc).
and finally, and most importantly: Drivers - realize the level of danger from road icing, know the warning signs, and take action accordingly (by either postponing travel or simply slowing down). Read icyroadsafety.com for tips and information.
Together, we can keep this upcoming winter's icy roads from surpassing the 2011 tornado season in lives lost.