That cold Pacific current, La Nina, is due back this year, for the second year in a row – and that likely means a long and difficult winter for those of us in the Pacific Northwest. “During a La Niña year, winter temperatures are warmer than normal in the Southeast and cooler than normal in the Northwest. See U.S. La Niña impacts from the National Weather Service..” From http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/tao/elnino/la-nina-story.html
When I lived in Montana, the only two winter conditions that would keep me off the road – or at least temporarily pulled over to the side – were black ice and a winter whiteout. Whiteouts could come and go very quickly; often, if you just pulled over and waiting for 20 minutes or so, the weather would clear just enough for you to see the edge of the road again and be able to proceed, albeit pretty slowly. Black ice is actually a little scarier, simply because it blends in with the road and you don’t know it’s there until your tires start spinning.
Living in the Portland Metro area or the Eugene/Springfield area of Oregon presents another kind of challenge – lots of winter ice. For most residents in western Oregon, the winters are not severe enough to get people used to extensive winter driving, and that lack of experience shows up when bad storms do come through. Add to that some good doses of ice, caused by the additional humidity of an area located closed to the ocean, and you have a recipe for lots of winter driving problems.
What can you do? Slow down; don’t be in a hurry from now until the middle of spring. You may be able to navigate the ice and any snow that falls, but you need to leave lots of room for the drivers around you – or coming toward you – who may need to make last-minute decisions in a timely fashion.
Be sure you have the right winter tires on your car – either all-weather, super-rugged tires with extra thick treads, or studded snow tires if they are allowed in your local area. If you don’t have those, then get a good pair of cable chains, the lightweight kind that can be attached with very little time and trouble.
How’s the anti-freeze level in your car; have you had the coolant system checked? We do that at Pit Stop, of course; just remember to get that system serviced.
Carry flares, a first-aid kid, a blanket and a shovel in your car all winter long. A shovel? Sure; you never know when you’ll have to dig yourself or someone else out of a drift. I tend to carry those little hand- and foot-warmers as well – the kind that start heating up as soon as they’re exposed to the air.
Don’t forget some extra food – power bars, chocolate, juice and of course water. A little Sterno stove and some matches are a good idea if you’re heading into the back country or using back roads in your travels.
Is your cell phone charged? Did you bring a charger that can plug into your car’s cigarette lighter? Does your cell phone have a GPS built into it, or do you have one installed in your car?
In general, pack your car for winter driving as if you expect to be spending two or three days in a stalled car somewhere in the snow. If you’re at all like me, you’ll throw in an extra change of clothes, a toothbrush and toothpaste, too! I’m firmly superstitious about preparing for disaster: if I am over-prepared, then surely nothing could possibly happen.