Time to think about winter driving
Winter’s powerful punch prompts a reminder every year for motorists to be prepared for hazardous conditions on Tahoe’s roads.
The snow has already flown in Colorado. Residents here were taken by surprise last year by a dumping of the white, slippery stuff in the third week of October.
When this happens, auto service shops see more customers and law enforcement sees more reason to remind people to slow down and drive carefully.
This year, the situation could be more severe, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting another El Ni-o, a tropical weather phenomenon that flooded and dumped on the region over the 1997-98 winter.
“The single most important thing people can do is slow down. They don’t realize 15 mph may be too fast,” California Highway Patrol spokeswoman Sherry Reehl said.
Some roads demand slower speeds than others. Reehl pointed out spots on North Upper Truckee Road just off Highway 50 and on the upper end of Apache Avenue.
South Lake Tahoe Police Department Sgt. Alex Schumacher said officers have noticed some areas where vehicles heat up the snow at stop signs and lights. This layer glazes over and makes it a slippery hazard.
“These wet roadways can quickly freeze,” Schumacher said, citing the Treehaven Drive and Johnson Boulevard intersection as one example.
If motorists find themselves in skid-outs, Reehl wants to remind the drivers to steer out of it. She realizes how instinctive using brakes to stop the advancement of the vehicle can be, but “brakes are your enemy.”
“You’re just going to slide,” she said.
Reehl also suggested people who are stranded by their vehicles to stay with the car.
“We can’t help if anybody’s not there,” she said, adding the risk of becoming disoriented in a snowstorm.
She recommends carrying a cell phone in remote regions. But she warned not to rely on the phones, as coverage can be spotty in such rural areas.
The situation can be life-threatening on roads with few shelters and no call boxes such as highways 89 and 88 in Alpine County.
El Dorado County has approved call boxes spanning the county up Highway 50. They’re anticipated to reach the South Shore next spring.
A veteran CHP officer recalled one of his most disturbing calls of his 30-year career involved a young woman who abandoned her car in a snowstorm when her vehicle was stuck in Alpine County. Her body was found in a snowbank over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Other driving tips from Caltrans include:
Allow extra time.
Keep your gas tank full.
If stranded, display a sign you’re in trouble.
Run the engine occasionally to keep warm.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends establishing a winter car kit with the following items:
Flashlight and extra batteries
First aid kit with pocket knife
Sack of sand or cat litter
Nonelectric bottle opener
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