Icy Roads: News and Updates Blog
December 2009 - March 2010 Archives
Season finally winding down, scattered hazards remain
The US icy road season is finally on its annual decline, thanks to warmer patterns keeping surface temperatures above the freezing mark for the majority of the country. So far this March, hazard zones have been largely confined to the northern and Rocky mountain regions, the same areas that typically see both the first and the last accidents of the season. While spring's approach will likely mean the end of the icy road threat for southern US regions, a stray winter storm/snowfall is still a threat to the middle and northern latitudes, as well as higher-elevation zones, through at least mid-April.
While this season's media-reported death toll has stayed mostly on par with last year's, it is now on course to come in slightly lower than the previous season, at 434 fatalities. At this stage, I do not expect this year's toll to surpass last year's.
Once the season is finally complete (around May 1), I will compile a report of the data recorded this year.
US winter season toll reaches 300
Exactly on pace with last year's toll at this time of year, the USA icy road death count for this winter has passed the 300 mark. Leading the stats is the state of Pennsylvania with 20 fatalities, followed by Missouri with 18, then Michigan and Oregon both with 16 (view full stats).
LINK: WeatherBrains podcast
A big thanks to Bill Murray and James Spann for the invitation to be a guest on the 'WeatherBrains' internet radio show this week to discuss the icy road hazard subject.
US toll reaches 200, holiday travel casualties high
A light snow event over the weekend in Missouri and Illinois has claimed the lives of at least 10 people, including two quadruple-fatality crashes in Missouri - the two worst road icing crashes so far this season in the entire country. This event pushed the USA 2009-2010 season icy road toll over the 200 mark, a milestone almost exactly on pace with last year's at this time.
The Christmas blizzard in the Plains and Midwest has itself claimed 33 icy road fatalities, and reports are still coming in.
WARNING: Freezing rain to threaten holiday travelers
Life-threatening situation developing for holiday travelers: For the second year in a row, a far-reaching freezing rain event is beginning to unfold across the Plains, Midwest, Appalachians, Shenandoah Valley, Blue Ridge, Ohio Valley, Great Lakes and Northeast US just prior to the Christmas holiday. Freezing rain - responsible for creating extremely dangerous 'black ice' - will occur in many locations between Tuesday and Friday. During last year's outbreak, freezing rain caused crashes that killed at least 49 people and injured countless hundreds during the two-day period from December 23-34. That toll rivals many of the country's tornado outbreaks in the past few decades! Unfortunately, nearly the same scenario is taking shape this week.
If you are traveling this week or have friends and family who are, please pass the word along! Anywhere you encounter rain this week could potentially be freezing rain - and the wet road you are driving on could suddenly and invisibly become ice at any time! Virtually no speeds are safe on icing from freezing rain, and driving at normal speeds when encountering this hazard often results in serious and deadly crashes. 'Black ice' does not always appear black - it can appear the same color as the pavement type - including gray, tan, or black. Freezing rain icing appears identical to wet pavement and usually cannot be identified visually!
Pay attention to weather forecasts and SLOW DOWN when encountering any precipitation of unknown type. Any rain could potentially be deadly freezing rain. Postpone travel if freezing rain or freezing drizzle is forecast anywhere along your travel routes.
Major eastern US snowstorm illustrates icing hazard zones
HD VIDEO: Spinout on I-64 in Charleston, WV during this weekend's storm
The major winter storm affecting much of the eastern USA this weekend so far has been a classic example of where the road icing hazards are truly found. Only two confirmed, verifiable icy road deaths have been recorded in the heart of this storm in Virginia and West Virginia. Three deaths associated with the storm have occured outside of the primary impact area - in northern Ohio, which received only light snow accumulations from the system. And while the eastern US storm raged, two other icy road deaths occured in Nebraska and Illinois from separate light snow-producing systems.
This storm is yet another that illustrates how major snowstorms are low-risk icy road events. The more notable threats from significant snowstorms tend to be in the form of motorists getting stranded and overexertion from shoveling snow. With big storms such as these, the public is typically much more prepared and more likely to avoid travel. Heavy snow and large accumulations tend to limit the speeds that drivers can reach, which limits the severity of any accidents that do occur. As this storm also shows, icy road death rates tend to be higher outside of the primary impact zones, where lighter snow results in less of a perceived danger. Contrast this weekend's storm with the freezing rain event on December 13, which killed at least 13 people across five states, 7 in Pennsylvania alone.
We will continue to monitor reports coming in from this weekend's storm as it moves into the New England areas.
Freezing rain kills 13 from IL to NY
The freezing rain event that I blogged about in my last post has resulted in at least 13 fatalities across Pennsylvania, Illinois, Maryland, New York and West Virginia - seven of those in PA alone. All of these deaths occured during a 3-hour window around sunrise on Sunday morning. This is now the deadliest icy road event so far this season, and not surprisingly caused by freezing rain. Freezing rain was the cause of last year's most deadly events.
Here is a video I want everyone to watch. Pay close attention to how the roads appear.
NEWS VIDEO: Accidents on tape, icy roads in the Pittsburgh area
There is a feeling among many in the weather community that drivers are responsible for themselves while on the road. While this is a valid point for most situations, if a motorist does not know how to forecast for winter precipitation, how can they realistically be expected to visually identify the hazards shown in the video?
Freezing rain/icing threat this weekend
A fairly serious freezing rain event looks to be setting up over a large portion of the country from Saturday into Sunday (December 12-13). As warm air moves up and over the cold air at the surface, rain will develop on this warm frontal boundary and fall through the subfreezing air north of it. When the precip reaches the ground, it will freeze on contact. This type of icing is the most dangerous because it is not visually apparent to drivers - the appearance is identical to wet pavement. I fear this could be the first 30+ fatality event from road icing in the US this season. The threat will be widespread, from the South into the Plains/Midwest and Northeast.
Please pay attention to the weather conditions this weekend and STAY HOME if freezing rain is imminent or occuring. This is the most dangerous type of weather of them all, with very high death/injury rates. It's not worth it to try driving in this type of hazard.
I plan to be covering this event on-location for icyroadsafety.com. Stay tuned for updates on the Twitter/Facebook feeds as well as the stormhighway.com Blog.
54 lives lost in the past 7 days
NEWS STORY: Children and mother killed in icy road collision
At least 54 lives have been lost in the latest outbreak of icy roads in the USA in the 7-day period since Thursday, December 3. In fact, the fatal accident reports are coming in so fast that I'm having to do multiple updates to this site per day to keep up. This is no suprise, as last year was the same way.
One of the more tragic cases was Monday morning's crash near Louisville, KY that killed two children and their mother. They were on their way to school. No mention of a road ice hazard was present in any forecast prior to the icing event. An SPS (Special Weather Statement) was issued overnight for icing potential. Would a strongly-worded warning product have changed the outcome? I believe it would have had a chance.
Today's event is convincing that a road ice warning product may be needed for ALL unexpected icing events, not just for freezing rain and freezing drizzle, but for ANY icing threat that does not fall under criteria for Winter Storm Watches/Warnings. People are not currently trained to treat road ice as a deadly hazard. The change has to start from multiple angles - public awareness, NWS warnings and communication channels between the two.
It's time to be done with all of the excuses. The 'SPSs are sufficient for road icing threats' argument is fundamentally flawed when the same standard is held up to other weather hazards. Why not do away with severe thunderstorm warnings and just cover them with an SPS? When you look at the human impact versus the resources that go into forecasting and warning of the hazards, the dichotomy is huge.
Road ice threat widespread in next 10 days
A major arctic air intrusion will result in the USA's first widespread icy road threat during the next week, with snowfall and/or freezing rain occuring across a large percentage of the country. In fact, many regions that rarely see snow will be affected, including at least south Texas, Alabama and Louisiana.
Signs of deadly freezing rain are also appearing on the horizon in the next few days - a result of warm air returning over the cold air mass in place.
This is "Go Time" for icy road awareness! Be on your guard against the danger by being aware of impending conditions. If road ice threatens, postpone your driving - or at the very least slow down. Remember that freezing rain creates black ice, which makes no speeds safe!
Icyroadsafety.com is considering on-location coverage of one or more of these events. Stay tuned!
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
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