Northern Virginia Ripe for Black Ice Wednesday Morning

AAA Mid-Atlantic is warning drivers that sudden braking can lead to loss of vehicle control during slick road conditions spawned by black ice.

Black ice; Patch archive photo
Black ice; Patch archive photo
After days of freezing rain and snow, plus plunging temperatures Tuesday night, drivers will have to be on the lookout for "black ice" during the Wednesday morning commute in Northern Virginia.

The temperatures Tuesday night into Wednesday morning will dip down to 19 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. The high Wednesday will be 32 degrees.

"...all that melting snow combined with the plunging temperatures heading our way could leave some very slick spots on area roads during the commute home," says AAA-Mid Atlantic.

“It’s called ‘black ice’ for a simple reason. It is nearly virtually invisible to the naked eye. And that is the inherent danger it poses to motorists and pedestrians too,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “As is its wont, black ice can stealthily encrust bridges, overpasses, underpasses, unplowed or untreated side and neighborhood streets, roadways wending around any body of water, such as rivers, lakes and ponds, or in shaded areas.”

“Black ice” formulates what highway safety advocates rightly describe as “one of the slickest road conditions known to man.” On top of that, “black ice” is frequently mistaken for a wet or newly paved road. The trouble is black ice can easily and quickly form this time of year, even when it’s not snowing or raining. 

In fact, it can coat roadways when fog or the condensation from overnight dew freeze. Once that happens, it spawns a thin and barely visible layer of ice on road surfaces. “It is ubiquitous when the conditions are right,” Townsend warned. “Black ice can also materialize in low-lying areas that may have standing water, or run-off from nearly melting snow banks or puddles.”

It is also called “clear ice” or “glare ice” and that’s telling. An OSHA official reportedly once called black ice “the deadliest of all winter driving hazards.” So keep the basic law of physics in mind when negotiating slippery local roadways, icy side roads and treacherous neighborhood streets. It is very important to slow down when you are venturing out. 

Here are the “eight simple rules” of the road, according to AAA, when it comes to coping with black ice:

  • Rule One: Look farther ahead in black ice conditions or when it is snowy, slushy or wet. Although it is mostly invisible, pavement with black ice will be a little darker and duller than the rest of the road surface. It commonly forms on highly shaded areas, infrequently traveled roads, and on bridges and overpasses. If you have a notion that there may be black ice ahead, downshift to a lower gear before you come onto the black ice. The lower gear will force you to drive more slowly and it will give you better control of your car.


  • Rule Two: Pay particular attention to “hot spots” for black ice, such as bridges, culverts, on and off ramps and elevated highways. Bridges and overpasses freeze first and melt last. Be alert while traveling through underpasses and other road areas shaded from  the sun. Use extra caution as the roadway leading up to the bridge may appear fine but the bridge itself could be a sheet of ice.


  • Rule Three: Be extra aware of the traffic ahead and look to see if any cars ahead of you are sliding. When the roads are wet or look wet, watch the vehicle in front of you. If it is not leaving tracks or its wheels are not  “throwing” water, it is probably black ice and not just wet. If you see brake lights, fish tailing cars, sideways cars or emergency flashers, slow down even more.


  • Rule Four:  Slow down. Period. Paragraph. The faster you’re going, the longer it will take to stop.  Rule three: When accelerating on snow or ice, take it slow to avoid slipping or sliding. 


  • Rule Five: Give yourself plenty of space and elbow room. Remember, it takes extra time and extra distance to bring your car to a stop on slick and snowy roads. As an added precaution, leave extra room between you and the vehicle in front of you.


  • Rule Six: Control the skid. If you are approaching a patch of ice, brake during your approach. Applying pressure to your brakes while on ice will only throw you into a skid. In the event you find your car is skidding, ease off of the accelerator or brake, and steer in the direction you want the front of the car to go. You may also find it advantageous to put your transmission in neutral while trying to stop on black ice.


  • Rule Seven: Don’t Brake Bad. To maximize stopping power and maintain control, squeeze the brakes with your toes. With your heel on the floor, squeeze the brake pedal gently with your toes. The anti-lock system will make the pedal pulsate. Don’t panic, this is normal. Continue to apply braking pressure. If your car doesn’t have anti-lock brakes, you need to use the following threshold braking technique: Squeeze the brake pedal with your toes, and, when you feel the wheels begin to lock, ease off the pressure slightly and hold it there.


  • Rule Eight: Don’t underestimate the dangers of black ice. Nearly 70 percent of winter weather-related deaths in the United States are caused by crashes on icy and snowy roads.  One study from Sweden found  that the automobile accident rate there is five times higher on roads covered with black ice than on dry pavement, four times higher than on wet pavement, and twice as high as on pavement covered with packed snow.”


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