It is important to know safety tips for driving in sleet and “wintry mix” weather. February and March are unpredictable times for the weather in the DC area. While driving in snow has its own challenges, as the weather grows slightly milder, we run the risk of other types of “wintry mix” weather—for example, sleet, freezing rain/fog and rain-snow mixes—which can make the roads even more hazardous than snow alone. Let’s look at some of these weather conditions and how you can stay safe on the roads.
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Sleet occurs when air aloft is warmer than air at the surface—a condition that frequently happens as the seasons start changing. Snow melts as it falls, then refreezes as sleet just before hitting the ground. Sleet may not feel slippery to walk or drive on at first, but it can quickly turn into an icy mess. To say safe, drive more slowly, give yourself more time to stop and turn into the skid if you start to slip. Also, never assume the road isn’t slick, even if it looks fine.
Similar to sleet, freezing rain occurs when snow melts as it falls through the warmer air aloft. The problem is it re-freezes on contact when it hits surfaces on the ground, causing sheets of slick ice to form on the roadways and anything else it lands on—arguably the most dangerous of road conditions. If you must drive on ice, drive extremely slowly, pump your brakes to slow down and don’t attempt to correct a skid. Better yet, stay home. There’s almost no safe way to drive on ice.
Freezing fog is not very common, but it can be quite dangerous for roads when it occurs. Fog that occurs when temperatures fall below freezing can cause the condensing mist to freeze on contact, causing thin layers of ice to form on windshields, and nearly undetectable “black ice” on roadways. Avoid driving in freezing fog if possible, and if you must, drive as though it were snowing, even if the roads look fine. Ice can form on the roads without warning.
A rain-snow mix may feel more like just rain when you’re driving in it, and sometimes it is. However, slush can sometimes accumulate on the roads in mixed conditions, causing unexpected slick spots. Use basic caution when driving, realizing that even rain can affect road conditions.
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