Agencies offer tips and information for safe winter travels.
The National Weather Service, Department of Public Safety and Texas Department of Transportation held a winter safety briefing on Thursday, November 15th at the NWS office in San Angelo.
Dr. Steve Pyons of the NWS said that the 3 primary impacts of winter weather were in school delays, transportation delays such as flights and it’s impact on commerce. Lyons said that there is a 42% - 45% change of above-average winter precipitation up into March. Approximately 70% of all travel delays throughout the year are weather-related. Every year there are around 40 weather-related driving deaths.
Lyons said that we are currently in an El Nino watch. Forecasters estimate an 80% chance of a weak El Niño during Northern Hemisphere winter 2018-19.
The Texas Department of Transportation San Angelo Office public information officer, Karen Threlked, was also on-hand. Threlked said that there are 80,000 miles of state maintained roads. The San Angelo district is the second largest TxDOT district in the state with over 7,300 miles of roadways. Currently there are about 80 vehicles to cover the San Angelo district. Some of the newer tanker trucks hold over 10,000 gallons. It can take up to 150,000 gallons to cover one length of a highway.
In January and February of this year they spent over $190,000 on snow and ice removal from the roadways in the area. Texas has over 3,000 snow and ice-related accidents every year. The trucks will sometimes be out a day or two ahead of winter weather to pre-treat the roadways. Threlked said that a safe distance from road crews should be maintained at all times, “Stay back at least 500’ from our road crews, especially in snow and ice.” Road crews are usually spraying a saltwater solution to remove snow and ice from the roadways and that if a vehicle is too close it can get the spray on it and that can sometimes cause minor damage. The TxDOT driving conditions website is DriveTexas.org. Threlked said the website is updated every hour or so. If you live in the San Angelo district, the Facebook page is TxDotSanAngelo.
DPS trooper Justin Baker said that the top 3 contributing factors to accidents are, “Speed, driver impairment and distracted drivers.” Even if you are going the speed limit when you are involved in a collision, you may still be cited for “fail to control speed” or “unsafe speed.” Baker says that impaired drivers are a distinct danger, “At any time up to 2% of drivers in Texas may be intoxicated. On a Friday and Saturday night that number jumps to 10%. A blood alcohol level of .08 makes you 20x more likely to be involved in an accident.” Add ice and snow-covered roads into the mix and you increase the chances of bad things happening. Baker says that distracted drivers are a danger as well, “The most common driver distraction are mobile devices. People who text while driving are 23x more likely to be involved in a collision. Driving on ice and snow makes it even more dangerous.”
You can take several steps to help reduce your chances of being involved in a collision;
Time management; If you know that there are going to be poor weather conditions, leave early and allow yourself extra time. Don’t rush. Vehicle maintenance; Ensure that your vehicle is in proper running condition. Check fluids and tires before you leave for your trip. Fatigue; One of the biggest factors involved in holiday travel is fatigue. Having no sleep for 24 hours prior to your trip increases your chances of being in an accident 20x. San Angelo Fire Department Battalion Chief Jay Neely said that the state experiences an increased number of house fires at this time every year. He says you should check your equipment, “Check the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Test them. Replace the batteries. If the detector is more than 10 years old then you should replace it.” He also said that adding holiday cheer can pose dangers, “Keep you live Christmas trees watered. A dead Christmas tree adds fuel to a fire and can burn very hot. Also, anything that provides heat creates carbon monoxide. Keep areas well ventilated and don’t use your stove or oven for heating your home. Be diligent about any flames. Don’t overload Christmas lights and extension cords. Overloading them can be very dangerous. Coiled up extension cords create heat. It’s not something people think about but a coiled up cord can be dangerous.”
Neely says that the late summer and early fall rains added a lot of vegetation growth to the area which can be a winter fire hazard, “All of that new growth will dry up in winter. When it becomes dormant it will provide fuel to any brush fires.”
Baker added that you should equip yourself ahead of time with certain items in your vehicle such as first aid kits, snacks, water, a blanket or something for warmth, contact numbers, jumper cables, fire extinguisher and a jack. Baker said that many people wait until they have a flat to realize that they don’t know how to use a jack. He says you should familiarize yourself with it beforehand.
If you see emergency vehicles working a scene, Baker says to follow the law that says to move over to another lane and slow down, “Move over or slow down, give us that brake.” There is also an 800-number on your drivers license for non-emergency roadside assistance.
NOAA weather radios are another important tool. They have continually updated conditions and can help you prepare properly for your trip.