When Winter Storm Jonas passed through the U.S., it killed 31 people and wreaked havoc on New Jersey roads. And just last week, Winter Storm Lexi delivered a quick blanket of snow, which created a traffic nightmare for morning commuters. Anywhere from two to four inches of snow accumulated on the roads and formed into something quite dangerous for drivers.
Black ice forms when condensation hits the ground and pavement temperature causes it to freeze instantly. Black ice can also occur when melted snow refreezes with dropping temperatures. Officials from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration call black ice one of the deadliest of all winter driving conditions.
How Can I Spot Black Ice?
While black ice is all but invisible to drivers, there are indicators drivers can spot. Areas that are low-lying or typically collect runoff may look like puddles, but are more likely sheets of black ice. Any bridge or underpass is likely coated. Look for areas on pavement that appear darker, wet or are under a shaded area. All of these indicate black ice is present, and drivers should proceed with caution. Typically, black ice is most common in the early morning or evenings, when temperatures are beginning to drop.
If you see any of these signs, you should always slow down. Bear in mind the posted speed limits are for ideal driving conditions and reducing your speed is the best precaution. Understand most vehicles do not respond to slippery surfaces the same way. Know how to handle your car and practice low-speed maneuvering whenever possible. If the roads look wet, watch the vehicle in front of you. If there is not water splashing behind the tires or the wheels are not leaving tracks, there is likely black ice present.
What Do I Do If I Hit a Patch of Black Ice?
If the worst happens and you hit a patch of black ice, you must first and foremost remain calm. Never hit your breaks, though this may be your first instinct. You should slowly lift your foot off of the gas pedal and try your best to keep your steering wheel straight. If you feel the back of your car sliding in a different direction, gently turn your steering wheel in the same direction. Your tires are designed to grip, which means if you struggle against the slide by turning your tires in the opposite direction, there is no grip and you are more likely to spin out. When the wheels gain traction again, you may gently correct your steering.
If all else fails and you do begin spinning out, hopefully you are now driving slowly, which can minimize how badly the spin is. Typically, black ice patches are no more than 20 feet in length, so your tires will hopefully find traction quickly. Use the minimum amount of breaking possible. If it is absolutely necessary to break, pump the breaks gently while you skid.
If it looks like you are heading off the road, try and steer into things that will end with minimum amount of damage, like a field or a snowbank. After skidding out, you may be rattled, however, it may not be a good idea to keep your car parked on the shoulder of the road. Other drivers may skid out as you did and it is best not to be within close proximity. If you suspect black ice is present on roads, it is best to avoid driving altogether.