Snow, ice, and off-road excursions

Last weekend Miss D. and I drove to a seminar held at a lakeside resort east of Gainesville, TX.  Unfortunately, that coincided with the arrival of a rare snowstorm.  Our normally safe roads were suddenly covered with 2-3 inches of snow, with patches of ice forming beneath the snow, invisible until you hit it.

This was US Highway 82 near Gainesville at about 8 AM on Saturday morning.  The photograph looks clearer than conditions actually were, and doesn’t capture the snow falling fairly thickly.  The car was distinctly “twitchy” over the slush in the tire ruts.

A drive that normally takes 2 hours took us over 3, traveling much more slowly than usual.  Shortly after turning off US 82, we hit a patch of black ice underneath snow cover.  I lost control of the car in a heartbeat.  We skidded across the oncoming lane (very fortunately, it was unoccupied at the time) and off the road onto the very wet, muddy verge.  Luckily, I had traction control switched on at the time, so our vehicle was able to keep moving as it sprayed mud and water in all directions.  We eased back onto the highway, to find that we’d passed the icy patch, and were able to go on with no damage or casualties other than our suddenly elevated heart rates.

This was the first time I’d hit ice like that while driving (my experience with snow and ice is extremely limited).  I’m glad it ended painlessly!  I wasn’t driving fast (probably one reason why the car wasn’t damaged), and in future I’ll be even more careful.  Coming back the same way a few hours later, we were both impressed by the depth and length of the ruts our wheels had carved in the grass and mud.  I’m glad the vehicle was able to take the strain, and not suffer worse damage.  (At the car wash this morning, we left an impressive amount of mud behind us!)

Of course, this is north Texas, where, if you don’t like the weather, just wait and watch.  Six hours later, homeward bound on the same US 82, the road looked like this:

You wouldn’t have thought that had been such a treacherous road surface, just a few hours before!



  1. If it snows or sleets in North Texas we will get Black Ice. It will sneak up on you and surprise you. Hate the stuff!!

  2. Some years ago I was traveling into work one morning. The roads seemed fine until I suddenly hit black ice at about 60mph and lost control. Fortunately the pickup remained upright and since it was about 5:30am traffic was non-existent. Nothing like it to get the adrenaline pumping.

  3. Growing up in Dallas, I think I got more experience driving on ice than I did on snow. It always seemed North Texas drivers felt that if they floored the accelerator, they'd eventually burn through the ice and get traction! I then moved to the midwest and got plenty of experience in snow and ice. My other favorite driver trick is when someone is approaching a hill and decides to STOP at the bottom of said hill to contemplate what to do instead of using their momentum to get up the hill – That's even done in areas of the country where people should know better! ugh…

  4. I am a lifelong Yankee used to driving in horrible road conditions. Having a well and properly equipped vehicle and the proper skills and knowledge to handle winter conditions makes it pretty routine up here. Before I go any further…I LOVE TEXAS!! The plan is to relocate there.

    My story; I was in the Dallas area for the famous Valentine's Day snowstorm of 2004. I had training in Richardson, but flew in and out of DFW. It was in the high 50's all week while we were down there, and my rental car was a 40th Anniversary Mustang Convertible. It had been really cold back home, so the weather in Texas felt wonderful. We drove around with the top down every day, and the poor frozen Texans looked at us like we were from Mars. Our flight home was Saturday morning the 14th at 08:30, and the forecast was for snow all day, starting around 7 AM, ending in the afternoon with MAYBE 2" total accumulation. I woke up to go to the bathroom at 4 AM and looked out the window. HOLY SHIT! It was snowing so hard I could barely see the parking lot lights or cars, and there was at least 3" already on the ground. I called and woke up my co-worker and told him he'd better be ready to leave in 30 minutes. He was and we left. The car had all-season radial tires so they went fine in the unplowed snow. I-635 was a disaster…there were wrecks all over the place. We bobbed and weaved around them and arrived at the airport safely. I figured if we weren't flying home today it wouldn't be our fault. Rental car returned and in the airport for 6 AM and we had a nice sit down breakfast. We boarded on time, got de-iced, and taxied out for takeoff. That's when things went a little sideways. We sat so long waiting to take off, we got sent back for a second de-icing. Now I was worried we were not getting out, but the de-icing was completed, and we taxied out and took off. I breathed a sigh of relief once we were above the clouds in the sunshine.

    The inability to drive in winter weather is not limited to my friends in the southern states. You should see what the lifelong residents around here do when it snows. In that case it is not about ability, it is about stupidity.

  5. Over the years I've driven in all kinds of winter weather. The consistently worse, IMO, is I-29 from Grand Forks to Sioux Falls. On sunny days light wind blown snow drifts across the black asphalt and melts. Then more snow drifts over the now black ice. Ghastly!

  6. In 1973 was driving on I-70 from Columbus to Dayton. The interstate was three or four lanes wide. Right lane was slushy, other lanes virgin snow. Decided to pass a semi, slowly drifted left, tried to straighten the car. Must have hit the gas, spun around and came to a stop across the right lane. Looked out the passenger window and saw the semi headed my way. Figured ditch is better than getting t-boned, hit the gas again, the car did a 450 degree spin and stopped in the far left lane facing west. Quick check of the rear view mirror showed no traffic in sight so sat there for a few seconds to get settled down.

    In MA my room mate and I were going from Springfield back to Westover AFB. The roads were snow covered .Driving separate cars he was a few minutes ahead of me. I was stopped behind a line of cars when I saw him headed the other way he told me that there was trouble at a hill ahead and to turn around. I let some space build up between my car and the one ahead, cranked the wheel hard left and tapped the gas, car did a 180 and I was on my way.

  7. Both roads out from where I live are uphill. Not a blong or steep hill, just normal inclines. But some years ago it snowed – it's unusual here to have settled snow on the roads. I looked out and saw all my neighbours charging at either hill, only getting part-way up, and coming home again with despondent faces. But I needed to get out, so I just put the car into low gear and kept off the accelerator. And the car took me up the hill with no problems. Some people just don't know how to drive in snow.

  8. John,
    sometimes the difference is not so much the driver as the vehicle and tire combo.
    I recall one winter that I found a hill I couldn't climb going forward, but was successful in reverse. Car was an early 60's Ford Falcon wagon, with the most aggressive snow tires I have ever seen. They looked like inner tubes with cleats, or lugs, for tread. That was my mom's car, there was at least 6" of new snow covering the roads, and I was looking for a challenge that evening.

  9. @Antibubba: This is Texas, so it probably stretches all the way to the New Mexico border. Even the cracks are bigger here! 🙂

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