I learned to drive in Northern Virginia, which is to say I learned to drive in a geographic enclave where no one drives in the snow. No one knows how to drive in the snow. This is not a problem, because the federal government shuts down when it snows. This is no figure of speech. It literally shuts down. My high school was very fond of two-hour closings. What is a two-hour closing? It’s what happens when the snow hasn’t actually accumulated enough to warrant a true snow day, but has come down enough to slick up the roads. You open at 10am, instead of 8am, because by then the sun has come out and the roads are no longer icy. I’m not joking. We sat around waiting for the snow to melt.
Things here are, well, a smidge different. They have to be. It snows all the time. It’s snowed every day for the past week — not enough to stick, but enough to slick. Last December, winter came roaring in with an overnight blizzard (whiteout conditions, thunder snow), as if the clouds had been hoarding up snow from the southern hemisphere all summer and decided after a night of heavy drinking to dump it over our house.
I’ve had to adjust.
Last year while backing out of the garage a snow bank jumped in my path and didn’t relinquish the car for three hours. Also, we didn’t have driveway salt.
It’s been a “by the seat of your pants” adjustment.
I’ve found it helps to prioritize the lessons:
You will die if you do not do following:
- Do only one thing at once. If you accelerate while turning, you will skid. If you turn while stopping, you will skid.
- Do everything slowly and gently. I am also a fan of the word “gingerly,” which means “in a reluctant, cautious, or timid manner.” Be timid. Be afraid. Don’t whip around the steering wheel, don’t come to a sudden stop, don’t pedal-to-the-metal when red turns green.
- No crowding. Leave plenty of room for any eventualities. Just because you are a winter driving rockstar in your rear-wheel drive sedan (gulp) doesn’t mean the SUVs whipping by are, too.
“But Natalie!” say you, “there’s a three-car pile-up ahead and if I don’t slam on the brakes I’ll career right into them!”
Well, aren’t you in a fix. That is terribly inconvenient. Go ahead and slam those breaks, but you’re probably going to skid out somewhere unexpected anyway. Is it worth it? Gingerly is the name of the game, friends.
You might die if you do not do the following:
- Warm up the car. Ten minutes before you need to leave, bundle out to that car and start the engine. You don’t want to be cruising around snowy roads with a sluggish engine and stiff steering. Also, you don’t want the car to be freezing cold inside, hello!
- Carry a kit. Okay, so I don’t have bottles of water and granola bars in the trunk. (Though I probably should.) I do have very advanced traction aids, like a bag of rice. Or kitty litter. Maybe this year I’ll upgrade to driveway salt.
- Fill ‘er up. Do not, do not let your tank get below one quarter full. You need extra fuel to pre-warm the car, and in a slightly more hysterical vein: If you go into a snow bank and have to wait hours for help, you’re gonna want the heater on the whole time, okay?
This helps, too:
- Pre-salt the driveway before blizzards. You will thank me.
- RTFM. If your car has anti-lock breaks, and you’re breaking, and you feel a pump against your foot, your car is doing its job.
And remember, if you’re not nervous, then you’re doing it wrong!