Freezing rain brings early morning surprises and fender benders

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comDecember 26, 2013 

  • Be careful out there

    Cold temperatures and damp weather can make the roads slippery. Here are some winter driving tips:

    • Bridges are the first spots that get icy. Even if you’ve been driving for miles with no problem, watch for black, icy patches ahead.

    • Stay an extra safe distance behind the car ahead. If the road is wet or icy, you’ll need lots more time to stop or slow down safely.

    • If there’s snow or ice on the road, drive slowly and brake gradually. If your car has anti-lock brakes, don’t pump the pedal when you need to brake – keep it firmly engaged.

    • If your brakes lock, take your foot off the brake and reapply it gently. If you’re skidding, turn your wheel in the direction you want to go.

    • Use your lights in bad weather so you can see better, and so other drivers can see you. State law requires headlights whenever your wipers are on. Daytime running lights are not sufficient – your taillights aren’t on.

    Source: AAA Carolinas

Holiday travelers and early morning commuters were caught by surprise Thursday when light rain turned to ice that was blamed for a rash of minor crashes that halted traffic on Triangle highways.

The National Weather Service warned of hazardous driving in a winter-weather advisory posted at 5:22 a.m. – but that was an hour after Highway Patrol troopers responded to the first of about three dozen accidents on slippery interstates in Wake, Durham and Orange counties. State Department of Transportation maintenance crews were spreading sand and salt on slick spots by 6 a.m., a spokeswoman said.

“I think it caught everybody off guard,” said 1st Sgt. Jeff Gordon, a Highway Patrol spokesman. “I wasn’t even aware we were supposed to have a chance of inclement weather. Those areas that were below the freezing mark, especially the bridges and overpasses, were the first to get hit.”

Many accidents were concentrated in a few areas where bridges and overpasses turned icy. Out of 19 crashes reported in Wake County, six were on Interstate 540 and four were on Buffaloe Road near I-540.

A string of minor accidents stopped westbound traffic for more than an hour on Interstate 40 in rural Orange County. Another handful of crash reports came from two stretches of Interstate 85 in eastern Orange County and northern Durham. Only a few accidents involved injuries.

“Most of these were the fender bender, one car losing control and hitting the ditch or the guard rail,” Gordon said.

The icy spots melted away as the rain stopped and temperatures climbed above freezing by 9 a.m. Thursday.

Local forecasters had discussed on Wednesday the possibility that rain would freeze after falling on Triangle roads Thursday morning, but they weren’t sure what would happen.

“With every forecast, there’s an element of uncertainty,” said Nick Petro, a National Weather Service meteorologist. “For this one there was a lot of uncertainty related to just how much precipitation would fall. It was very light amounts.”

Road maintenance crews were on call, and they went to work with sand and salt trucks after the weather service issued its winter weather advisory.

“Once the advisory was issued, that there was some freezing rain, they called the crews and had some people out there between 5:30 and 6 a.m.,” DOT spokeswoman Nicole Meister said. “We always have our crews ready. We have to look at the weather. If they’re calling for something, we respond accordingly.”

The Triangle forecast calls for clear skies until Saturday, with rain storms likely Saturday night and Sunday.

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or Twitter: @Road_Worrier

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