Winter weather driving doesn't have to be dangerous

(KATU File Photo)

Drivers in and near the Columbia River Gorge will probably be the next to have to deal with icy roads, when moisture moves back into the region this weekend and potentially sticks to the pavement as freezing rain and sleet.

It can be harder to handle than snow.

Just this past week there have been two fatal car accidents. They were partly blamed on icy road conditions caused by fog and below freezing temperatures.

Driving experts say patience and pre-planning will go a long way in keeping you safe on the road when the winter weather strikes again.

"One of the things I think people forget is that they buy chains, but they don’t practice putting them on," says John Brady of the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

"Having to try to put those on when it’s snowing, and doing it for the first time, is not easy. And if you’re familiar with it, it just makes it easier."

Brady says PBOT could require chains if conditions are bad enough. If it does, it would be most likely in the higher elevations like the West Hills, but could be on any Portland street.

If you do have to put on chains, experts recommend finding somewhere warm and dry, like a parking garage, so you can make adjustments before heading out onto the icy pavement.

Brady recommends just staying home if you can swing it.

If you do have to head out, AAA reminds you that snow and ice are the great equalizer -- the two-ton truck slides just as fast and easy as the tiny compact car.

"We hear from a lot of drivers who say, ‘Well, I have a 4-wheel drive rig, and I got stuck’, but if you don’t have the correct traction tires or chains on that vehicle, 4-wheel drive is not going to be much help to you on ice," says Marie Dodds of AAA. "On snow and ice, in slippery conditions, the kind of brakes you have doesn’t really matter as much as how you drive that vehicle."

So Dodds says take it slow, leave plenty of room between your rig and the others on the road, avoid sudden starts and stops, and while the weather is nice, pack an emergency kit in your car before you need it.

A car emergency kit can be just like one you'd have ready for a fire or an earthquake, with an added touch: a bag of cat litter. Not for the cat, but for traction on the snow.

PBOT will use more salt on the roads this year if it thinks it'll help.

But Brady says you can help yourself by paying attention to new elevation signs that went up around the city last year.

"Elevation makes a huge difference during a storm, right? Because it can be raining on the valley floor, but up in the hills it can be slick and snowy," he says.

He adds that other signs are important too, especially the "road closed" signs.

"If you go around them, not only can you put yourself in danger, but you potentially put crews in danger, rescue personnel in danger, so if it says, 'road closed,' we mean it, and don’t go around those signs. When it rains a lot, we get flooding or ponding in the road, we’ll close roads then. Two years ago, we saw people going around those signs, and then they get stuck, so instead of one problem we’ve got two, and they’ve got a problem that they didn’t have before. So that’s really important."

PBOT had a good response last year to its "Winter Weather Center," so it will be back this winter.

You'll find it online, and be able to see the city's snow plows in action in real time, all the latest road closures, and not only the city's traffic cameras, but also all of ODOT's cameras too.

And if severe winter weather even appears to be on the way, Brady says extra crews will be too.

"If we think that something's going to develop, we’ll bring our crews in. We’d rather have them here, and have to send them home because nothing happened, than get caught behind the eight ball," he says.

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