Icy Road Safety.com - Prepare for Weather's Most Underrated Hazard
                Monday, December 9, 2013 - 8:00AM CST

Preliminary low estimate of December 3-9 toll: 40

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Road Icing Deaths by State
December 3-9, 2013
State Deaths
Texas 5
Wisconsin 5
Indiana 3 each
Michigan 2 each
New Jersey
New Mexico
Arkansas 1 each
RAW DATA: Accident reports: Excel (XLS), OpenOffice

(Updated Wednesday at 1AM CST) At least 40 people have lost their lives on icy roads in the US since last Tuesday (December 3 to 9, 2013). This figure comes from a search of online news reports across the country, and therefore is likely a significant underestimate. Based on my research from 2008 to 2010, the news-report-derived icy road death annual average is 468. However, a recent report placed the number of weather-related crashes at 7,000 annually. While this figure also includes incidents caused by rain, fog, wind and dust, it's apparent that the news reports are not yielding a comprehensive total. Online news source searches are currently the only practical way I have to estimate the human impact of road icing, so it will have to do for now. A comprehensive study would likely be a full-time endeavor.

VIDEO: DOT camera captures Wisconsin pileup

While deaths are the most tragic impacts from road icing, there is also significant injury and property damage to consider. Injury accidents are almost impossible to count using news reports. Using ratios derived from single events in small areas, the death-to-injury ratio can be anywhere from around 1/50 to 1/200, meaning this last week's events could have injury numbers ranging from 1,500 to over 6,000 people. I have not been able to derive even a remotely reliable ratio for accidents and damage. I have noted news reports on single-day events within a single metro area ranging from a hundred to thousands of property damage accidents. Some of these events had fatalities, while some did not. Keep in mind that still many minor accidents are not reported. Even though it's tough to estimate a number, it's plainly apparent that the human impact from road icing is one of the most significant of all weather types.

Freezing rain was responsible for a large number of this past week's impacts. The highest death toll from a single event that I have documented since 2008 is the December 23-24, 2008 freezing rain event in the Midwest and Plains region, when at least 49 lives were lost. Freezing rain/drizzle is, by far, the most dangerous weather condition on earth, in terms of the number of deaths per hour that result while the condition is present AND the number of people it affects through the course of an event. It is for this reason that I believe freezing rain should hold a prominence and state of urgency, in the same way a tornado outbreak does. While I was out observing this recent freezing rain event in the St. Louis metro area, I witnessed the vast majority of drivers not driving at safe speeds for the conditions. Only the diligence of salt crews kept a disaster at bay. But salt trucks can't be everywhere at once, and not all events are so soundly forecasted in advance.

"Freezing rain/drizzle" should strike fear into everyone that hears it, in the same way a tornado warning does for most. This should be a condition that makes people stay home when they know it is threatening, learn to recognize its warning signs, and at the very least slow down significantly if one must venture out when it is in progress.

The following comments were posted before this site switched to a new comment system on August 27, 2016:

Recent Blog Posts
- Developing a road impact parameter for forecast models and mesoanalysis - October 29, 2021
- The deadly Fort Worth, Texas pileup of February 11, 2021: Its cause, contributing factors and future prevention - March 31, 2021
- Major road icing event affects 41 states - January 14-18, 2018 - January 20, 2018
- Trip to Mississippi and Alabama for Southern US winter storm - January 5-7, 2017 - January 22, 2017
- High-impact freezing rain/drizzle road icing event from Oklahoma to the East Coast - December 20, 2016
- New educational winter driving videos released, more planned - November 21, 2016
- "Icezilla" freezing rain disaster in the northeast US - January 19, 2015
- December 30-January 2 Oklahoma/Texas icing event sequence - January 2, 2015
- Freezing rain disaster - November 22, 2014 - November 23, 2014
- Report: Major winter storm in the Deep South, 1/28 - January 30, 2014
- Report: High Risk road icing event in south Texas/Louisiana - January 26, 2014
- Winter tires: not the solution for preventing icy crashes - December 13, 2013
- Preliminary low estimate of December 3-8 toll - December 9, 2013
- The Top 7 Icy Road Myths - December 6, 2013
- Aren't icy road crashes caused by driving too fast for conditions, not ice and snow? - November 14, 2012
- Road icing news for January-February 2012 - February 25, 2012
- Commentary on the recent viral WV pileup video - January 8, 2012
- Significant road icing outbreak: Monday, January 2, 2012 - January 2, 2012
- No vehicle can safely go highway speeds on icy roads - December 23, 2011
- Another case for "Road Ice Warnings": December 8-9, 2011 light snow event - December 10, 2011
- A big thanks to those helping raise road icing awareness - November 18, 2011
- 15 road icing deaths in the past week: estimating the full impact - November 4, 2011
- 2011-2012 road ice season in the US already in full swing - October 22, 2011
- Coming this winter: another 2011 tornado season toll - July 21, 2011

Past Blog Archives
- April 2010 - January 2011 posts
- December 2009 - March 2010 posts
- November 2009 posts
- October 2009 posts
- March-April 2009 posts
- February 2009 posts
- January 2009 posts
- December 2008 posts

Educational Winter Driving Videos - Watch for Free:

Video: How to correct a slide on an icy road (and how to prevent them)Video: Icy Bridges: Weather's underrated killerVideo: Deadliest Weather: Freezing Rain

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Average annual
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Average annual
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