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Driving Tips to Keep You Safe In Stormy Winter Weather

Updated on June 27, 2010

Wall of snow in Buffalo, NY

Winter Weather Conditions

Winter here in Western New York is always full of suprises. The local weather forecaster has been calling for large amounts of snowfall for several days. Sometimes I feel sorry for the weatherman because inevitably, even with all the technology he has at his disposal he still can't precisely pick the exact day a storm will arrive. However, to give credit where credit is due, he does get pretty close sometimes. The snow started falling about 4:00 am this morning. I woke up to about 6 inches of new fallen white stuff swirling across the driveway and piling up in front of the garage. Six inches in this area of the country is considered more of a mere inconvenience than a snow storm. Especially since the weatherman had been forecasting snowfall in units of feet.

Weather Map showing lake effect bands

Weather Map
Weather Map

Lake Effect Snow

There is a weather condition in Western New York or around all the Great Lakes for that matter, commonly referred to as lake effect precipitation. In winter in particular, it is referred to as lake effect snow. The prevailing winds and the air temperature combine together to create the perfect conditions for producing "HEAVY" snowfall. The cold arctic wind blows down from Canada across Lake Erie or Lake Ontario, combines with the warm moist air rising off the lake and the lake effect snow making machine kicks into high gear. These "bands" of lake effect snow, as they are commonly referred to locally, will stretch across portions of New York from the lake shore inland anywhere from 15-60 miles long and approximately 10-30 miles wide. Sometimes, during periods of really strong winds they will reach up to 120 miles or more inland.

With these long narrow lake bands stretching out from the lakes, it is possible to travel perpendicular to the wind direction and you will drive in and out of sever driving conditions.  One minute you can see the sun shining brightly above, and a few miles down the road the visibility is so poor you can hardly see 50 feet in front of you.  Drive a little further, and the sun will be out again.  As the conditions change rapidly, it requires drivers to be fully prepared prior to departure in order to ensure there own personal safety as well as the safety of other drivers.

Winter Weather Driving

Winter Weather Safe Driving Practices

Safe driving practices begin in the driveway prior to departure.

When the lake effect snow begins to fall, it can come down as much as 2-4 inches or more per hour. At that rate, snow piles up quickly on your car. Take the time to clear the snow thoroughly from your windows and lights. I recently saw a white car traveling in heavy snowfall with just a wiper path cleared on their windshield. The headlights and the taillights were completely covered in snow. It was obvious this person took no time whatsoever to clean there car before taking off down the road. This creates a safety hazard for them as well as other drivers on the road.

When driving on snow covered roads, SPEED KILLS. Slow down and give yourself extra room for stopping, traveling around curves, and turning corners. The faster you go the further momentum will carry you if you lose control of your vehicle.

Safety begins with YOU! Don't assume the other driver will be able to control there vehicle. Even though you may have the right of way, you can be dead right when passing through an intersection if the other driver is unable to stop.

Drive defensively. If you are always in control you will have a much greater chance of avoiding someone who isn't.

Dry hard packed snow is much easier to drive on than wet slushy snow. If the air temperature is well below freezing, less than 25 degrees fahrenheit then the dry snow will still pack but it won't melt under the weight of the average vehicle.

Be especially careful driving if the snow is wet and packs easily. As you drive over the wet snow it packs under your wheels and the pressure from the weight of your vehicle forms a thin layer of water on the icy packed tire tread. This makes for extremely slippery driving conditions. Also take extra care when driving if the slush is accumulating in the lanes of traffic. When traveling at highway speeds, 55 mph or more, your vehicle will tend to hydroplane on the slush causing very difficult handling.

The Results of Lake Effect Snow in Oswego County, NY


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