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What you should know about traveling in the snow

Update (7:30 a.m.): If you're out with your camera this weekend and want to share fabulous photos of the snow, you can send them to us here.

Update (7:05 a.m.): The Capital Weather Gang says we've been upgraded from a winter storm watch to a winter storm warning. That's in effect from midnight tonight to 6 a.m. Sunday. Make your preparations throughout the day. Here's a map showing potential accumulations.

Original post: The Capital Weather Gang is predicting that the Washington area could be in for a big snow event this week and we're under a winter storm watch.

You may have already started thinking about what you need to do to prepare around the house. Snow shovel at the ready? Check. Supplies of hot chocolate in the cupboard? Check. Dug the kids' sled out of the basement for some weekend fun? Check.

But don't forget that there are things you can do to prepare if you need to drive in the white stuff, or even if you plan on taking public transportation. We're not recommending that you do either. In fact, it may be best to lay low, especially if we get major accumulations with temperatures in the 20s.

Dr. Gridlock has a prescription for being prepared. Take large doses of it:

Tips for winter travel

Don't crowd the plow. Snow plow operators may need to stop or move quickly to avoid a stranded vehicle. Plows moving in high winds can create a snow cloud, severely limiting visibility, and the operator may not be able to see you due to blind spots.

Before driving. Get the snow or ice off the vehicle, including the roof. Check your battery, wiper blades, tires, tire jack, antifreeze and lights. Keep the gas tank at least half-full.

Carry an emergency kit that includes a small shovel; a bag of rock salt, sand or cat litter; a scraper and brush; a flashlight with extra batteries; jumper cables; blankets; and a first-aid kit.

When driving. Don't use cruise control, allow extra room for stopping distance, turn your lights on, know the condition of your brakes and be aware that road conditions can change quickly. Stick with the main roads as long as you can rather than detouring onto secondary routes. It's the main roads that will get the most attention from plows and emergency vehicles.

In Metro. While waiting on outdoor Metrorail platforms, remember this is our first winter in which the trains are required to pull to the front of the platform, exposing more of the train -- and more of you -- to the elements. Platform paving tiles can be slippery. Also, anticipate delays and detours, especially if you're taking the bus. Remember Metro clears the areas around rail station entrances but not around bus stops.

Flying somewhere? Check with the airline about possible delays. Information will also be available on the Web sites for Dulles, National and BWI airports.

For more on what local jurisdictions do to prepare for snow, check out this feature by Dr. Gridlock.

Stay safe out there, and check Get There for the latest on navigating Washington's roads and rails.

By Michael Bolden  |  December 18, 2009; 6:03 AM ET
Categories:  Advisories , Safety , Weather  | Tags: metro, winter weather  
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Next: Today's read: roads and rails


And if you have a sidewalk on your property, shovel it clear of snow as soon as you can after the snow has stopped falling. Footsteps on snowy walks quickly turn to ice.

For heavy accumulations like we might get here, shoveling once or twice during the storm will make the overall job much easier.

Posted by: md268 | December 18, 2009 9:10 AM | Report abuse

Will the metro run to outside stations like silver spring if we get 10 inches of snow? I recall in years past that metro only runs on the inside stations if there is a lot of snow.

Posted by: JG55 | December 18, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Everyone knows there is a massive blizzard coming to Washington, DC tomorrow. I have a connecting flight at 6 AM from DCA to JFK and onward to Tokyo tomorrow morning. I have called American repeatedly and asked if I can just get on a train to New York today at my own expense, and check in at JFK for my regular flight. Their response is that this constitutes a ticket change and I would have to pay $2500 for the privilege of purchasing a new ticket at this time.

Why hasn't American Airlines implemented a severe weather policy that allows such changes at no expense? This storm is coming and other airlines have changed their policy.

Posted by: jofij | December 18, 2009 10:00 AM | Report abuse

There's are all great tips. But here are a few more:

1. For safe driving on snow-packed pavement, the best tip I ever heard was, "Drive as if you had an egg under each of the pedals." Nice and slow starts and stops. Don't want to break the egg.

2. When you clean your car off, push the snow off toward the sidewalk side. On a parked-up street, there's as much snow sits on the cars as in the travel lane.

3. If you live in a cul-de-sac or dead-end street, make sure there is a place where the plows can push the snow. Ask neighbors to move cars, if necessary.

4. If you are at the top of a hilly, snow-covered street and you see a driver trying to come up the hill, pull over into a (preferably cleared) spot and let them pass. If they have to stop to yield to you, they may never get going again. You'll have gravity on your side.

5. Sometimes, after people dig their cars out of street parking, the places are held with lawn chairs or other obstacles. Maybe this is right, maybe it's wrong. It's a lot of work to clear a spot, and disheartening come back after a short trip to buy necessities and find someone has taken it. Communicate with your neighbors. Work together to clear as many spots as possible. Don't be peevish. The snow, however much there may be over the next three days, will fall on everyone equally.

Posted by: gardyloo | December 18, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

I always enjoy the jokes about bread, milk and toilet paper runs in the region whenever flurries are in the forecast, but this is real serious stuff. I've lived in the region (OK south of and then west of the core) for 38 years and we're not equipped to handle 2 feet of snow. Anyone who was here for the March 2003 storm can attest to that. So be careful out there, there won't be a lot of movement until Monday or Tuesday if this comes to pass.

Posted by: ValleyCaps | December 18, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

The people I really feel sorry for are those with satellite dishes on their roofs. If they get covered with snow they quite operating. Probably having a super-soaker is the best way to clear them. I'm fortunate that mine is at ground level and I can clear it with a broom.

Lots of good suggestions posted. The clearing of soft snow before footprints (or tire tracks)is really important. That compact snow/ice can last for ice. There is no getting rid of it, all you can do is treat it with salt, sand, or ashes.

Nice Autumn storm, eh?

Posted by: rjma1 | December 18, 2009 7:49 PM | Report abuse

Remember to clear ALL snow off your cars-- including the roof. Snow blowing or sliding off a roof (and onto the windshield of the car behind it) contributes to nasty accidents every year.

Posted by: cmj99lp | December 19, 2009 6:47 PM | Report abuse

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