Portland residents were taken by surprise recently when the city received its first snowfall of 2016. Over an inch of the white stuff fell in the metro area, causing chaos on city roads. Gridlock trapped drivers for several hours throughout the city and on major highways. Public transit delays abounded as drivers abandoned their parked cars. Several others drove and crashed. Schools closed. The city issued a dual ice storm and freezing rain advisory to keep everyone on their toes.
For a city full of motorists who experience a high level of precipitation throughout the year, one would think Portland residents would be a little more prepared to take on a few inches of snow. The fact is, winter driving carries more risk than driving at other times of the year. Ice storms specifically bring upon a uniquely catastrophic phenomenon — freezing rain.
How Freezing Rain Endangers Motorists
Although Portland receives just 3 inches of snow a year, the state of Oregon is at high risk of fatalities from freezing rain. In the 2009-2010 winter season, 17 deaths directly tied to freezing rain were reported, among the highest in the nation. According to Ice Road Safety, freezing rain claims an average of 467 lives each year.
The phenomenon is the trademark of a winter ice storm. An ice storm is a winter storm in which a minimum of a quarter of an inch of ice accumulates onto exposed surfaces. Such storms are most common during December and January. Freezing rain occurs when raindrops move into a layer of below-freezing temperatures near the surface, whether it is the ground, the tops of trees, houses, cars, and anything else left outside. The rain freezes shortly after making contact with an object that is at or below freezing temperatures.
The most common myth about freezing rain is that it “freezes upon impact.” In reality, water takes time to freeze. Whether or not the rain will freeze depends on the temperature of the object it touches. The rate at which the rain freezes depends on the temperature of the object, the temperature of the water drop, and the water drop’s size. Water drops at or below freezing that hit objects that are at or below freezing temperatures freeze the fastest.
Elevated objects like trees and power lines face the highest risk of damage due to freezing rain. Just a quarter of an inch of ice adds tons of weight. Ice can increase the weight of tree branches by up to thirty times! This causes trees to split and topple over and power lines to fall, leading to massive power outages and road hazards. When the surface of the road is below freezing, freezing glazes roads in smooth, thick sheets of ice. Car accidents in freezing rain are common as drivers lose complete control of their vehicles.
Icy Road Risks
Drivers tend to underestimate the risk of driving during a snowstorm or ice storm. Yet slick roads and greatly reduced visibility are extremely dangerous conditions, even for drivers who approach with care.
The worst road condition brought upon by a rough winter happens when it snows OVER the ice. Known as “black ice,” a clear sheet of ice on asphalt is invisible to drivers, especially when they think they are pretty safe driving on snow alone.
The trees weighed down by freezing rain also pose a threat to motorists as they can fall over at any moment. Trees like willows, maple and birch trees are more likely to topple under the added weight of the ice.
Icy road accidents are more common in specific zones. Bridges and elevated roadways accumulate ice much earlier than other roads, which catches drivers off-guard. On highways where cars are driving at higher speeds, accidents are devastating. It is important to greatly reduce speed and double or triple the distance left between cars to lower the accident risk. Driving around a bend in the road or turning poses a challenge to drivers when roads are slick, as well as areas where drivers must apply the brakes.
There is no “safe” method of transportation in these extreme conditions. The best thing you can do to minimize your risks of a dangerous car accident at this time of year is to heed the warnings and stay indoors. If you happen to find yourself in a predicament, or know someone who does, your Portland car accident attorney can fight for the settlement you deserve. Call RizkLaw at (503) 245-5677 for a free consultation.