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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Experience and Planning For the Weather

This is Steven Petrick posting.

This last Sunday past I drove Leanna and Jean to Oklahoma City so that they could experience Mannheim Steamroller.

You are all no doubt aware of the weather situation that hit the center of the country with early snowfalls. Naturally that would provide for the fall of snow on the day of the trip.

It was not a surprise, we were aware of the ongoing weather event, and actually began monitoring the possible weather a week in advance of the operation.

When the day came and the final pre-flight forecast prompted the "go/no-go" decision, I judged that there would be light snow on the way out and that this should prove not too much of a difficulty, and that between the time of our arrival and the conclusion of the show the snow would have stopped, and the road crews would have had adequate time to clear Interstate 40 for the trip home. So I called the mission a go.

I did not, however, anticipate "freezing fog."

That is my best guess for what caused the high number of accidents we encountered about 20 miles short of the Texas Oklahoma border on the outbound leg. Lots of jackknifed and even completely overturned big rigs. Obviously a lot of people in smaller vehicles not allocating sufficient braking distance from the vehicles in front of them.

Jean and Leanna revisited the "go/no-go" decision, but I convinced them we would make it. Yes, we drove slower (to road conditions) and commented on the courage (or was that stupidity) of people who passed us, but overall the "stress factor" on the interstate was never particularly high for me.

My main concern as announced before the trip began was the surface roads inside Oklahoma City itself, which I knew that, unlike the main artery of the Interstate, would not be cleared.

How right I was.

Swinging by to pick up the ladies was relatively easy, but our simple exit to the interstate was blocked by the police (the apparent result of a wreck of some kind on the actual intersection at the top of the ramp). This diverted us to a long (mostly due to the slow speeds, icy conditions, dark, and unfamiliarity of the route we were now on) detour in search of the next entrance ramp to the west.

The roads were packed with snow turned to ice, and my high level of focus and need to keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times led to significant pain in my shoulders by the time we made the ramp. SVC called and wanted us to make a go/no-go decision by the time we reached a particular exit just outside of Oklahoma City.

My prediction on road conditions held, however. And we were moving along at a reasonable clip by the time we hit the Garth Brooks exit, and so continued on.

There were, overall, fewer wreck sites in the return trip, but at least one of these was major with significant traffic back up about 15 miles on the Oklahoma side of the Oklahoma/Texas border, but over all the road crews had, as I had anticipated mostly cleared the road. There were a few rough patches, but not many, and we made it back to Amarillo by 2300 hrs.

Of course this was when I found that the road crews had not done quite as good a job on I-27 as had been done on I-40, and I-27 was still kind of rough even on the following day (Monday), but the sun was out and by Monday evening it was almost as if the snow had never been on the roadways.

Years of experience all came together to plan for the trip and the weather that was forecast to make a safe trip, but it was also skill and experience that allowed safety, in so far as my own driving, for the unanticipated aspect (freezing fog). And, of course, good fortune as while I can, and do, control my own driving (ever conscious of other people's lives in my hands), I cannot control the driving of others and we were fortunate that no one driving in excess of the road conditions lost control just at the time they would have hit us.