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D.C. area road conditions vary from snow to slush to ice

The Grid Spouse took the Polar Bear plunge into the frigid waters of Chesapeake Bay at 1 p.m. Then I had the tough part: I had to drive us home along Route 50 and the outer loop of the Capital Beltway.

What's normally about a 40-minute trip took an hour and a half. We saw plenty of busted vehicles along the sides of the highways. There were plenty of snowplows, salters and sanders out, but the snow at mid-afternoon was coming down at such a rapid rate that their work was quickly covered over.

Your best bet is to avoid doing what either of us did today. But if you must go onto the roads, I offer these suggestions:

  • Make sure your windshield wipers are in good shape and that your wiper fluid reservoir is filled. It's not only snowy, it's also really cold. We had the defroster blasting, but it still was tough to keep ice and slush from hindering the view. Some drivers pulled off just to clear their windshields.
  • Clear the car off before you start. It's only going to get worse as you drive.
  • Travel lanes on the highways may not follow their normal patterns. You can't see the lane markings and drivers are following the paths worn by the vehicles in front of them.
  • Conditions change rapidly. Snow becomes slush becomes ice. Four lanes become three, then become two. That can happen quite suddenly.
  • Many highway ramps are backed up with traffic.
  • We saw two spinouts and evidence of plenty of others. Slow down, and study the road surface way ahead. The spinouts appeared to occur where the road surface went from snowy to slushy.
  • The worst spots were overpasses, upgrades and ramps.

  • By Robert Thomson  |  January 30, 2010; 4:05 PM ET
    Categories:  Driving , Safety , Weather  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, snowstorm  
    Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: D.C. area airports reporting more delays
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    Comments

    Dr. Gridlock,

    I always enjoy your comments, but I have to add one here now for the safety of your readers.

    During a winter storm in which there is precipitation and the outside temp is less than 25F, the WORST thing you can do is have your defrosters on. The WORST.

    What will happen is the defrosters will melt almost anything that hits the windshield but, because the outside temp is so low, the defroster simply cannot overcome the cold temps to keep the windshield clear. The precip will simply melt and freeze, melt and freeze. Next thing you know, you're driving blind (kinda like those folks on the Beltway reading while driving).

    Having lived in upstate NY where the temps sometimes got up to minus 10, the rule of thumb is: if the temp is less than 25F, keep the windshield COLD. In this case any precipitation (snow) that hits the (cold) windshield will simply be deflected and not be melted and stick.

    Less than 25, keep the windshield COLD!

    Best from Potsdam NY.

    Posted by: HoofHearted | January 31, 2010 12:19 AM | Report abuse

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