Wednesday, December 7, 2016

It’s the time of year we like to call “Will it or won’t it?”

By Mike Allende

Will we see snow, or won't we? Forecasting weather is tough, but preparing for a storm or hazardous traveling conditions isn't. Whether flakes fall or not, it's often cold enough during winter months for ice to form and create slick roads.

While our crews treat roads 24/7 during colder months, that doesn't mean there won't be areas where ice has formed and travel is tough. Deicer salt also doesn't work when temperatures are under 20 degrees. So we count on drivers to do their part.

Ice can be expected on all roads this time of year, so drivers should slow down in hazardous conditions.
What does that mean?
  • Slow down and drive for conditions.
  • Increase your stopping and following distances. If you're pulling into traffic, be sure there's enough room to get up to speed and to allow others to slow down while you merge.
  • Pay attention to and abide by traction requirements.
  • Be sure your vehicle is prepared (pdf 1 mb) for winter travel.
  • Be extra cautious on ramps, bridges and overpasses, which tend to freeze first.
  • Give snowplows and other large vehicles extra room.
  • Drive to your abilities. If you don't feel safe driving during hazardous weather, make the right decision for you.
  • Know before you go. Check forecasts and road conditions before heading out.
When snow/ice is on the ground, give snowplows and other large vehicles plenty of room.
In the event of a major storm affecting state highways, we have a number of resources available to keep people informed of conditions and road closures.

We use Twitter as our primary tool to communicate in real time with travelers and have a number of relevant accounts worth paying attention to:
  • @wsdot: Will provide statewide updates and information.
  • @wsdot_traffic: Updates for King and Snohomish counties.
  • @wsdot_north: Updates for Skagit, Whatcom and Island counties.
  • @wsdot_tacoma: Updates for Pierce, Thurston, Mason and Kitsap counties.
  • @wsdot_sw: Updates for Vancouver and southwest Washington
  • @snoqualmiepass: Updates for the I-90 corridor from Snoqualmie Pass to eastern Washington.
  • @wsdot_east: Updates for roads east of the Cascade Mountains.
  • @wsferries: Updates on ferry service.
  • @wsdot_passes: Updates on pass conditions and traction requirements.
The Washington State Patrol also has several Twitter accounts that are useful to learn about road conditions and get safe driving tips. The National Weather Service has accounts devoted to both Western and Eastern Washington and are good sources for staying up to date on forecasts.
Plan ahead by equipping your vehicle
with emergency supplies.

When using Twitter, be sure to check #wawx, #wasnow and #wintersafety to easily keep updated on conditions and updates on weather.

We don't typically use Facebook for specific road condition updates unless it's a very serious incident/closure. Instead, it will be a convenient place to find stories and videos that include information about forecasts, winter travel safety tips and what we are doing to prepare for extreme weather.

Our winter web page is an excellent resource to find a variety of tools to help you prepare. Among the highlights:
  • Videos to show you how to put on chains and drive for conditions.
  • An explanation of what traction advisories mean
  • Our mountain pass reports so you know what the roads look like and what traction requirements are in place.
  • Active travel alerts to plan for any road closures or other incidents that may be affecting your route.
We encourage everyone to download our free app for their mobile device. You can find traffic maps, mountain pass reports, ferries information and travel alerts, among other resources.

Information about traffic and weather on state highways is available by dialing 511. Messages are updated frequently, including mountain pass conditions and blocking incidents on highways.
Our various Twitter accounts are a primary way we relay real-time road information to the public.

While it may seem that more often than not, predictions of major snowfall don't pan out, it's always a good idea to be prepared and know where to turn for information before an emergency actually occurs. Because as soon as we let our guard down, that's when we'll find ourselves slipping and sliding all over the road. Protect yourself from those situations by getting ready now and knowing where to check if a big weather event does arrive.