With the arrival of winter’s first major snowstorm, and with more likely to come, winter driving has officially come to the area; time to drive carefully and slowly.
Before I moved here I often did not drive into the Sierra Mountains when it started to snow. I often found driving conditions fairly atrocious, with long waits to get chains on the car, and people heading up to ski at the resorts generally snarling traffic.
There were times I would go to the snow. I often took my dog to the snow so she could play in it, as she loved to catch snowballs in her mouth. Beyond that though I did not go into the mountains unless I absolutely had to, as those experiences were often traumatic.
One of my earliest experiences driving through the snow was when I was a young child, and my mother was driving her eldest daughter back to college in Incline Village. She went to Sierra Nevada College at the time. She drove a Toyota Corolla and it was full of three kids, two dogs, and luggage.
There were predictions of a storm. Caltrans had chain controls at a low elevation, even with no snow on the ground. After the checkpoint people often stopped and took off their chains. That was a mistake. Not long afterwards the road was covered in snow, and the vast majority of vehicles had no chains on and had no snow tires as well.
My mother kept her chains on, which was something that allowed us to make it up the mountain, unlike many others. There were spinouts everywhere. Caltrans closed I-80, but for us on the roadway we could only trudge forward at around 10 miles an hour. After 12 hours we made it from Sacramento to Incline Village, which normally would take two hours.
The other time involved driving through a snowstorm, around eight years ago. I was driving to Reno, Nev., to attend an event in early November. It had been a dry year, and really no snow had fallen yet in the mountains. While I had bought chains I was feeling fairly confident that I would not need them as the weather was predicted to be intermittent showers, and no real accumulation of snow. Sadly that was incorrect. In reality it was a blizzard over the Donner Summit.
There were no chain controls as Caltrans was not prepared for the amount of snow that did come. Those of us that did get through had to brave the elements of a totally snow-covered roadway, white out conditions, and the inability to put on chains because there was no way to pull off the roadway to put them on. So I slowly drove up I-80 over the pass, going very slowly and following the one track through the snow that I could see and hoping I was still on the roadway. Trucks often passed me at 80 miles an hour. By going slowly and safely I made it to Reno for my event.
When it snows that means it is time to drive a safe and sane speed. There is no need to speed down the road. People might have traction tires that helps them maintain traction on the road, but that does not mean it will help them stop.
I read too many reports of accidents this past week. Take it slow, you will still arrive to your destination, it just might take a little longer.