Here in the Midwest, many of us are enjoying warmer than average temperatures and a decided lack of that fluffy white stuff that is usually found in abundance at this time of year. Nevertheless, it is important to stay prepared for unexpected temperature fluctuations and changing road conditions.
One of the slipperiest and most dangerous situations a driver can encounter during the winter months is black ice. This is an especially hazardous condition—both difficult to spot and predict.
Black ice forms when the air temperature at the surface is 32 degrees or below and rain is falling. The cold temperature near the ground causes the precipitation to freeze on contact, forming a sheet of clear, almost invisible ice. Sleet, as well as the melting of snow and refreezing of the water can also generate black ice.
Because of its ability to blend in with its surroundings, this type of ice is particularly hazardous. Given the name black ice because it looks like the rest of the pavement, it is actually clear and difficult to recognize on almost any surface.
Keeping abreast of the temperature and condition of the roadway is always important when you are driving in the winter. However, when the weather is unseasonably warm, it is easy to let your guard down.
For instance, if you leave home in the morning and it is rather mild, bright and sunny, you may not realize that just an hour or two earlier it was below freezing and that some of the shaded areas on the roadway remain icy. Furthermore, if you begin your travels on a 40 degree day, you might be caught by surprise when the sun sets and the temperature dips just below freezing causing melting snow to form a slick sheet of almost invisible ice.
The best way to avoid becoming a victim of black ice is to stay alert and pay attention to slight temperature fluctuations, especially on those in-between days. The prime time for ice formation is in the late evening or around dawn. The most common locations for black ice are on areas of pavement shaded by trees as well as on overpasses and bridges that freeze more rapidly than other stretches of roadway.
When you are driving during daylight hours, take a quick look at the pavement. If you spot dark, glossy areas on otherwise dry pavement, it most likely ice. Because black ice is almost impossible to see at night, it is best to be well-informed about temperatures and weather conditions in the area before beginning your drive.
If you do encounter a patch of ice, remember that you have even less control than you do in snow, and the best way to handle the situation is to stay calm and allow your vehicle to pass over it. Always:
- Keep the steering wheel steady and DO NOT hit the brakes
- Take your foot off of the accelerator
- If your car begins to slide, do not overcorrect your steering
Black ice is just one of the many hazards drivers deal with every day. It is always good to plan ahead before an emergency situation arises, as this is often the key to avoiding an accident.