Weather 101: Winter’s Ultimate Trick On The Road – Black Ice

Weather 101

You hear the warnings all the time about black ice in the winter time, especially when temperatures drop below freezing. Black ice is a hazard all motorists and pedestrians should be aware of as it can cause multi vehicle pileups on highways and slip & fall injuries on the sidewalks.

Black ice, also known as clear ice, is a thin transparent layer of ice on surfaces, such as sidewalks and roadways. Its name comes from being transparent, giving black ice the appearance of being same color as the surface it is on.

Black ice can form a few ways:

  • Flash freeze situation where it’s raining and temperatures quickly fall below freezing.
  • Water from snow melt can refreeze once temperatures are below freezing.

One way to spot an area of black ice is to look for surfaces that have a glossy appearance, especially if temperatures are or have been below freezing for a long time.

Ice covered road. Image: Markus Shu

Remember to be careful when temperatures are above freezing but still close to 32°F as ice does not melt the moment temperatures are above freezing. This is particularly true if the surface is in the shade and hasn’t received sunlight.

Black ice is extremely dangerous for drivers and has resulted in numerous accidents across the United States. A 10-year average (2007-2016) from the Federal Highway Administration shows 156,164 crashes were due to icy pavements. The report also shows 41,860 injuries and 521 fatalities due to icy conditions.

Click image to enlarge – weather-related crash statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. Link: https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/weather/q1_roadimpact.htm

If you encounter black ice while driving, remember these things:

  1. Remain calm and DO NOT HIT YOUR BREAKS HARD. Slamming on your breaks in an attempt to stop may cause you to lose control of the vehicle.
  2. Take your foot off the gas to decelerate. Gravity (if you are on a hill) and friction will help slow you down. Just try your best to keep the car straight and follow the lanes.
  3. If conditions are favorable for black ice, give yourself more distance between other motorists and reduce your speed. This will give you more reaction time and reducing your speed allows for more traction on the roadway.
  4. If you start spinning or fishtailing, turn your steering wheel into the spin. Example – if you start fishtailing to the left, turn your steering wheel to the left to straighten out the car. If you turn the wheel the opposite way, you will cause your vehicle to spin out of control more.
  5. Have a manual transmission? Shift into a lower gear to help maintain traction on the road.

Do you have a weather question? Send us an email (weather@knwa.com) and we may answer it here on Weather 101!

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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