While most Oregonians are prepared to drive safely in rain, snow is a different matter. Even a light dusting of snow, not considered newsworthy in other parts of the country, can bring traffic to a stop, as it did in December 2016.
Portland Traffic Halts during Light Snowfall
The National Weather Service predicted snow on Wednesday December 14th, and transportation officials warned drivers to avoid travel. Portland schools, however, remained open and few employers advised workers to stay home. When flakes that first appeared late Wednesday morning were sticking by afternoon, panicky residents hopped in their cars to beat traffic on their way home. Traffic came to a halt, and drivers stuck on freeways and steep, slick hills blocked roads for snow plows and buses. Cars without traction tires or chains tried and failed to negotiate hills, and many were abandoned along Highway 26 west of the Vista Ridge Tunnel.
“It seemed like there were many people who simply were not prepared for winter driving conditions,” said AAA spokeswoman Mary Dodds.
Schools Closure Delay Traps Buses for Hours
Portland schools unwisely decided to delay sending students home early Wednesday, trapping packed school buses in icy gridlock for hours into the evening. Parents were worried, and school officials say they will be more proactive in the future with early school closures and communicating with parents.
Road Surfaces Unprepared for Icy Conditions
Road crews were out days before snowfall spraying road surfaces with gravel and a magnesium chloride de-icing solution when rock salt should have been used instead, as it is in other states. Although salt is corrosive to cars and road equipment and contaminates ground water, it is a better de-icing material. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) announced December 16th that it will begin using rock salt to melt ice and snow on roads across the state in certain problem areas when other options have failed, such as Sylvan Hill along US 26 and Breeze Hill on I-5 near Tigard.
How to Stay in Control in Snow and Ice
Avoid Traveling If Possible
Travel experts agree, the best way to deal with ice and snow on the roadways is to stay home, or if you are travelling, stop off for the night at a motel when snow starts. If you must travel, remain where you are until snowplows and sanding crews have done their work.
Maintain Adequate Tire Tread Depth
The condition of your tires can determine the safety of your drive in ice and snow. Electronic Stability Control (ESC) won’t prevent a skid in snow and ice if you have worn tires or drive too fast. According to Tire Rack, to have adequate snow traction a tire requires at least 6/32-inch deep tread, although some tires will retain good bite down to 5/32nds.
Choose Winter Tires for Snow and Ice
Winter tires are better in snow and ice than summer tires. If you choose winter tires, get a full set. Mounting winter tires on the front of a front-wheel-drive car will make it prone to spinning out in the snow and plowing straight off on wet or dry roads. Putting winter tires only on the back of a rear-drive car will make the car difficult to turn in snow and more likely to spin on dry roads.
Although winter tires are best in ice and snow, they are universally bad on dry roads and may or may not be good on wet or damp roads. If you live in a northern city, where roads are quickly plowed and sanded, all-season tires with plenty of tread depth may be adequate.