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Winter travel tips: Deal with change

Washington rarely gets snow storms. We get winter events that mix in all kinds of moisture. For travelers, that means dealing with change. Today, the weather you go out in may not be the weather you return home in.

The Capital Weather Gang is predicting a rainy start, then a mix of rain and snow, then all snow toward evening. Whatever it is, it's the first of the season. We don't handle such events very well. Count on travelers to forget the following things, which you, of course will remember:

Changes. If the forecasters aren't quite sure what will fall when, why should drivers be? Look as far ahead into traffic as you can. What's happening up there? Are they all slowing down? Is that someone skidding on the overpass? Did slush affect that driver's speed? Is the road condition going to be very different as I make this next turn?

Visibility. If we get an accumulation, it's likely to be wet snow. Not the stuff that requires a scraper, but drivers should push it off the windows, roof and lights before pulling away from a parking spot. (Got window washer fluid?) Put your headlights on. Use turn signals. It's not just a question of you seeing other drivers and pedestrians. You need them to see you.

Parking lots.This isn't a commuter day. It's a holiday shopper day. Best advice for shoppers is wait till Sunday, which has a good-looking forecast. If you have to go out today, morning is better than afternoon. Try to park under cover. It may be raining when you go in the mall, but snowing when you come out. Go slowly down the parking lanes. Watch for backup lights and for pedestrians. Try to park so that you're facing out, so you won't need to back up when you leave. It's that visibility thing.

Transit riders. At bus stops, don't be leaning out to see if the bus is coming. Those cars will splash you. Try Metro's Next Bus system to get arrival times, but know that deteriorating road conditions can throw off the Next Bus computer brain. On Metrorail outdoor platforms, remember the trains are pulling all the way to the front of the platforms, beyond the reach of most overhangs. So be careful on those slippery paving tiles.

By Robert Thomson  |  December 5, 2009; 8:21 AM ET
Categories:  Driving , Weather , transit  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, travel tips  
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