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Major road icing event affects 41 states - January 14-18, 2018

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Mississippi icy roads
Icy road close call on I-55 in Mississippi

HD VIDEO: Interstate 55 cross-median slides in Mississippi

SENATOBIA, MS - It is rare for a single storm to threaten the majority of the United States with the icy road hazard. The event brought dangerous conditions to 41 states in a continuous swath from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.

So large was the area of risk that a bit of incredulity was garnered from the map I posted on the icyroadsafety.com Twitter account:

But the map was no joke. As of the publishing of this post, the media-sourced death toll from this event is at 42 (many fatal accidents are not reported in news media, and therefore this figure represents the absolute minimum number). Many tragic stories are emerging, particularly from the south, where the impacts from icing are higher due to the lack of salting and most drivers inexperienced with winter weather. Near New Orleans, an 8-month old baby was killed and the mother critically injured by an icy bridge near Metarie. Another icy bridge nearby took the life of a firefighter assisting another accident victim.

Even NASCAR drivers are not immune to the hazard. In North Carolina, famous professional race car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. wrecked on the slick roads:

Meteorological synopsis

The event was caused by an expansive storm system spreading precipitation across the country as a significant arctic air mass plunged southward into the Gulf of Mexico. Snow was the dominant precipitation type for all but the extreme southern portions of the event along the Gulf Coast, where a mixture of sleet, freezing rain and snow was seen as far east as the Florida panhandle. The surging arctic air was cold enough to allow for all-roads icing to within 50-100 miles of the Gulf Coast, while the coastal regions saw primarily bridge icing.

Following the precipitation, the air remained below freezing for as much as 48 hours in most southern locations, keeping the icy road threat present for days after the storm.

Media-sourced accident reports

The following is a list of the fatal accidents reported in online-searchable news media, current as of the publishing of this post:

Alabama (4) Andalusia 1
Brewton 1
Huntsville 1
Lee County 1
Georgia (4) Macon 2
Marietta 1
Paulding County 1
Ohio (4) Akron 1
Akron 1
Logan County 1
Sidney 1
Texas (4) Austin 1
Cut and Shoot 1
Houston 1
Pasadena 1
Colorado (3) Colorado City 2
Strasburg 1
Louisiana (3) Metarie 1
New Orleans 1
St. Francisville 1
North Dakota (3) Mandaree 1
Thompson 2
Illinois (2) Thomasboro 1
Lyndon 1
Indiana (2) Laporte 1
Michigan City 1
Missouri (2) West Plains 1
Dade County 1
Arkansas (1) Sheridan 1
Florida (1) Santa Rosa County 1
Kentucky (1) Pikeville 1
Maine (1) Winthrop 1
Montana (1) Rosebud 1
New Mexico (1) Las Vegas 1
North Carolina (1) Roper 1
Pennsylvania (1) Shippingport 1
South Carolina (1) Greenville 1
West Virginia (1) Milton 1
Total: 42

The following are county, state or city total accidents reported by law enforcement and/or emergency management agencies during the event:

North Carolina 2,700+
Houston, TX 400+
San Antonio, TX 230+
Virginia 248+
Greensboro, NC 150+
Memphis, TN 100+
Livingston Parish, LA 85+
Beaumont, TX 80+
Jefferson Parish, LA 79+
Winston-Salem, NC 60+


The following are more notable incidents-caught-on-camera during the event:

Field coverage

I departed St. Louis early Monday to cover this event in the deep South, arriving at my first overnight stop at Hernando, Mississippi. The trip was cut short when I suffered a sidewall-damage flat at the hotel from a hard-to-see curb protruding into the dark parking lot. Due to the MLK holiday and the fact that I am running winter tires (which are not sold in the South), I had no way to repair the tire before the storm began. This also limited my coverage expedition to northern Mississippi, as there would be no way to make the additional distance to the Gulf coast as originally planned.

During the storm, I spent about 12 hours in the Memphis area and the I-55 corridor in northern Mississippi observing the conditions and shooting video. Other than a 30-minute period of sleet and freezing rain Monday night, the precipitation type in this region was primarily snow. I-55 quickly became very slick due to the lack of treatment and the effects of vehicles compacting the snow into a layer of ice.

The worst conditions were encountered in Senatobia, MS along I-55, where I witnessed two full-size pickups lose control and nearly cross the median into the oncoming lanes. These both occurred while I was driving, so the dash cameras captured the incidents:

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

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- The deadly Fort Worth, Texas pileup of February 11, 2021: Its cause, contributing factors and future prevention - March 31, 2021
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- High-impact freezing rain/drizzle road icing event from Oklahoma to the East Coast - December 20, 2016
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- 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
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- 2011-2012 road ice season in the US already in full swing - October 22, 2011
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Past Blog Archives
- April 2010 - January 2011 posts
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- November 2009 posts
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- 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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