Ah, winter. The crisp smell of snow, the soft beauty of snow, and the horrible driving disasters of — you guessed it — snow. I, for one, am a strong proponent of heading out in adverse conditions for fun and skids, but I recognize that some people actually have to get somewhere — somewhere that may be buried under layers of slush and ice. So, yesterday, we asked for your worst stories of traveling through wintry conditions, and you gave us a whole bunch of stories. Stories so good, in fact, that I won’t even be commenting on them; my Christmas gift to you all is a day free of my little Remarks. With that, let’s dive in.
Southern Snow Prep
4 inches of snow. In Atlanta.
I believe it was winter of 1988. No salt, no real snowplows or process to handle snow removal on roads. Snowed a couple of inches and the entire Atlanta Metro area went batshit crazy. Temperture went up to like 50-60 degrees just long enough to melt those few inches but not for the slush/water to drain/dry and then...BAM! 30 degrees and a few more inches of snow.
Icy roads up and down all those hills. A pile of cars at the bottom of the hill at the intersection in front of Dekalb Co. Jail. Hill leading down to the intersection was a sheet of ice but 100 yards up the hill the sun was out and the road was dry with cars barreling down the hill at the posted speed of 45-50mph only to hit the ice and slide helplessly into the pile. That was repeated all over the whole city.
Worked in a 24x7 telecom ops center at the time. On my way in on I-285, a car lost control in front of me. Did a 180 and we were staring each other in the eye for a few seconds before he drifted into the guardrail. Made it to work but was stuck there 3 days over a total of like 4-5 inches of snow.
The Blizzard Benz
Back in the mid-80's my school teacher dad bought his dream car, finally, a Mercedes! It’s just too bad it was a 1972(3?) 450SE, with so many issues my mom dubbed it Hitler’s Revenge. My dad’s sister lived atop the mountain in snowy Johnstown, PA, and one Christmas we left there in a blizzard to allegedly drive back to Philly. My dad was determined to keep to the schedule! Made it down the hill OK, but it then became apparent we weren’t going anywhere else.
We parked in a parking garage, and then in the driving blizzard with our luggage in tow, hoofed it over to the Johnstown Inclined Plane. This is a sort of rail car that climbs the mountain, I think it’s the same as a funicular. My aunt lived about 1/2 mile from the top. So maybe 2 hours later we showed back up at her house, soaking wet, freezing, my mom’s perm and makeup are a mess. My brother and I are about 8 and 10 at the time and thought it was awesome, but my mom to this day is still pissed. Just another example of how Hitler’s Revenge got over on her.
Here is the only know remaining photo of that car, which I loved to death, despites its proclivity to bankrupt my family. Nobody has any recollection of what those feet are!
Oh Hey, That’s Us
I am from Virginia. Now living in Fredericksburg. Working in the Transportation infrastructure industry, etc.
Sure, the Jan 3 snow shutdown everything for over 24 hours but I am still working at it and will for the next few years/decades. It might define much of my career.
Oh You Better Believe That Grid Is Locked
January 1987. I’m working as a reporter in Hudson County, NJ. The day begins under the threat of a big storm, but I cover a city council meeting as planned. The snow waits until after the morning rush, then comes in hard and fast. People panic and clog the roads before salting and plowing can make a dent.
After the meeting, my usual 15-minute drive back to the newsroom balloons to an hour. I hustle to file my story and head for home around 3, normally a 45-minute drive. I need a push just to get my Chevette out of the parking space.
Most of Hudson County forms a peninsula surrounded by the Hudson and Hackensack rivers and Newark Bay, with only a handful of ways in or out. They all shut down, by official order or plain paralysis. It’s the only time I’ve ever been in true gridlock. The first leg of my trip, typically 5-10 minutes, takes 4 hours. At one point I’m the creeping tip of a wedge going through an oddly angled intersection on U.S. 1&9, with opposing traffic inching by on both sides. The frequent standstills last long enough for me to turn off the car, get out and walk around.
I reach NJ 3 at last, and it’s a jagged ice sheet littered with abandoned cars. A local entrepreneur walks through traffic selling snacks and water from a box. I’m buying. The only thing worse than pressing on is joining those who gave up, because it just leaves another obstacle for everyone behind. I lose an emergency chain and get a push from behind at one point, and in 3 hours I reach an eerily empty Garden State Parkway. I reach home 8 hours after I left the office.
The next day it’s back to work, and Route 3 in particular looks post-apocalyptic. In the newsroom, I peer into the conference room and see a pair of boots, toes up on the table, attached to a co-worker sleeping off last night’s visit to the local dive bar. I later learn that he slugged the editor-in-chief during a struggle over his car keys.
Better Than Ending Up in the Gorges
About 8 years ago or so I was driving to my then-girlfriend’s house in Ithaca NY from MD, so a good 6 hour drive or so. I had my trusty 2000 Subaru Impreza, so I did have AWD, but no ABS. It started snowing as I crossed the border into NY. About half an hour from her place, I was driving along a long stretch of road with maybe 2 inches of fresh snow on it, at about half the speed limit because it was cold enough that the salt on the road wasn’t helping. I had it in a low gear and thought that if I at least didn’t have to stop suddenly, I’d be fine.
Well, a truck pulled out in front of me a little too close for my liking and I had to slow down fast. I kicked the car into first gear to use engine braking since I knew my non-ABS brakes would lock up, but the abruptness of the shift broke my traction, and I started losing control. I ended up in a ditch by the side of the road, but thankfully with no damage, as I pretty much softly coasted into the ditch. I was shaken, but otherwise fine. I called AAA, and they said it would take them about an hour and a half to get to me. Oh well, I could at least have the car running with the heat on. I called my girlfriend to let her know what happened, and that I would be late. A few passing motorists stopped to ask if I was okay, and I told them all I was fine and had already called AAA. The last person to stop and check on me was a cop. I told him what I had told everyone else, and he got ready to leave...and promptly got his cruiser stuck in the ditch too. Right in front of mine. Wonderful.
The AAA guy finally got to us, and he had to pull the cop’s car out first because it was blocking mine. But soon, I was out of the ditch and I continued on my way, going maybe 15 in a 55 zone this time, because I was not going to risk it. I did end up making it to my girlfriend’s house with a wild story to tell.
I Would’ve Sued
Moving across the upper Midwest from State College PA - Peoria IL in February during white out blizzard conditions, driving a ill-kept UHaul (they were all lousy company owned shops then) with a cat in heat in the cab with me. It was 1981 - I had one of those text/pagers for communication. No cell. Scary shit.
Future employer booked me a room in a crappy hotel/motel with a NO PETS policy. I had been very clear about the cat. New job, leaving DND hang tag on the door of my room while training and looking for a place I could afford. This was more worrisome than the drive. Housekeeping letting out (or discovering and reporting) my furry fugitive. Abbey. May she RIP.
Our Home and Native Land
Canadian checking in! As you might imagine, I’ve driven in conditions that most here will consider the worst ever, but really wasn’t a big deal. A couple years ago there was a heavy snowfall that happened while I was in Toronto for a concert. The 401 remained unplowed, so there was a solid 3-4 inches of snow on the highway that the front of my car was plowing a path through. Ezpz. Just slow down and let the idiots in their trucks and SUV’s end up off the road after they pass (I counted 3 that passed at high speed for the conditions in the ditch). It took 3 hours instead of one, but wasn’t a big deal.
There was one experience that stands out though. Years ago I was at a friends place to play some halo. We were due snow, but I wasn’t prepared for how much. Roads were quiet, and similar to the above, it was too early for plows yet. I just went slowly. There was a LOT of accumulation - more than I remember in any other 4 hour period. At least six inches. I had to follow the subtle bumps of curbs to know where the road was. And then I had to stop. The road ahead had no curbs. There were no houses. And I knew that somewhere in the flat field of white in front of me there was a bend in the road. It was completely invisible. I ended up turning around and following the curbs again and my tire tracks - no one else was dumb enough to drive in this. I took a really long way home restricted to roads with street lights stopping every 15 mins or so to clean snow off the windshield since it was coming down faster than my car could wipe it. It really hasn’t snowed that much since.
Kirby and the Forgotten Snowplow
I was working as a Systems Engineer for local tech company, and the client I supported was rolling out a new deployment at their data center in eastern WA. I was to be the onsite representative for our company. As I’m heading out on I-90, the temperature started to drop such that it started to snow heavily just east of Issaquah. By the time I got to North Bend (less than 10 miles), I had white-out conditions. I could barely see the white line to my right. This proceeded all the way to Snoqualmie Pass, at which point I must have reached the leading edge of the storm, and I didn’t see a single flake the rest of the drive. That segment of the drive would normally take 30 minutes, but ended up being over 3 hours. By the time I pulled into the hotel, I had over 1/2" of ice on all leading surfaces of my car. Which I should also mention, as it may not have been the best choice, if I had the ability to pick. I was driving a 2005 MINI Cooper S. To give Kirby (yes, I’m one of those that named his MINI, and no, it was NOT named for the pink cartoon character) credit, I never felt like i was going to spin out or slide off the road. I just couldn’t see anything beyond the immediate just off my right front corner. And the kicker to all this is that I remember the exact date - April 1, 2009. Yep, April Fools, here’s a massive dumping of snow for your drive!
Diamond Joe Should’ve Taken the Firebird
Coming home for Easter from college I took Amtrak from DC to Philly. It turned out Vice President Biden was going to be on the train so the secret service had to inspect the whole train. This led to us leaving an hour late. This caused us to leave in a snow/ice storm. By the time we got to Baltimore it was really coming down, so much so that we had to stop. And because the VP was on the train we couldn’t just stop in the open so we stopped in a tunnel for hours.
After a while I talked to the guy next to me and he wound up being a ambassador to an island nation. He was a cool guy and his grandson went to my high school. We each bought each other a round at the bar, but eventually the train ran out of drinks and food.
The only annoying thing about him was he mostly wanted to talk about the Flyers. I know enough to talk for 5min at most and this was a many hours ordeal.
We eventually got to 30th Street Station after 10 hours with most if it spent in a dark tunnel listening to stories about old Flyers teams. It was supposed to be a 90 min trip. I still love Amtrak.
Your Reasoning Convinced Me, But I’m Calling Them “Hot Blizzards”
So if it’s a melted blizzard, can we call it a tropical storm? So I used to be a traveling computer tech for a rather large fitness company. I had over 25 facilities throughout the Tampa Bay area. So one time, I was doing one of my checks and driving to Venice, FL during a tropical depression. I-75S in the Sarasota area was undergoing expansion. So not all the lanes were level, on top of that, there were no proper drainage channels on the road. So I’m driving at speed, around 70 mph, I end up on a lower piece of pavement and it was flooded. I start losing control, I spun out into the median with my car facing towards traffic. I didn’t hit anyone and my car wasn’t damaged. I called my boss and told him I’m going home because my life isn’t worth a trip to a gym. I also ended up going with something a bit safer, went from an 03 Focus to an 05 E320 diesel. I definitely had my code brown moment that day.
For the Band? For the Band? For the Band?
I was living in Chicago at the time and Minneapolis St Paul got the 30+ inches of snow over Halloween.
I came home for Thanksgiving and I gave the Bass Player for a local band a ride to the bar where they were playing that night. Had my Samurai in 4 High the whole way it was snowing so hard. Bar Cancelled the show and did not pay the band. Band had also been ready to play on Halloween and same thing happened. No Pay
Dropped him off and was going to parents house and before I drove up their unplowed street, I locked it into 4 Low and hit their street with all it had. It was doing pretty good but I kept having to downshift as the snow got deeper and deeper. Finally about halfway up I was running out of clearance and I was in first gear and was starting to buck. My thought was if I get stuck I will just leave it there and walk the block or so. Made it thru.
The Advantages of On-Campus Housing
Not sure if I’d call it travel - more of a commute. But back in 2005 we had this horrible ice-storm and my university’s policy on closing down the school is, it doesn’t. Like even during state of emergencies. It was so bad that cars leaving the lot would just slide down the hill uncontrollably. Took me 45 minutes to WALK to my car (usually a 5-8 minute affair). The usually 35-45 minute car commute home took the better part of 9 hours. We never got over 5mph and were mostly going 2-3mph when we did advance. So many people freaked out that they stopped on the side of the highway overnight.
What About Locusts?
I worked for a large company on the west coast for 30 years. They got a sweetheart deal from a governor on the east coast to build their new factory there. The new factory has been closed by hurricanes, blizzards, earthquakes, floods, just about everything but frogs and flies.
The original factory on the west coast has been closed for half a day to check for an earthquake and snow once.
Put Some Weight Over the Drive Wheels
I drove from Rochester MN to Mankato MN in an ice storm driving a RWD Chevy S10. I was going about 45 mph, and could not keep the rear wheels behind me. It was a Sunday, and I needed to be back for an 8 AM final on Monday morning.
Tales to Come
Check back in with us after the weekend.