(ABC4) – When a commute becomes a traffic jam becomes a borderline crisis, things can turn dangerous quickly.
Just ask the drivers on a 50-mile stretch of I-95 in Virginia. Until an enormous gridlock opened up on Thursday morning, they had to spend more than 24 hours trapped in their cars, with nowhere to go. Due partially to several jack-knifed and disabled trucks, prompted by a sudden storm that dumped more than a foot of snow in the area, those stuck on the road were left with little choice but to wait it out.
Fortunately, there have been no reports of any deaths or injuries, although there have been several stories of motorists forced to spend the night in their car, battling freezing temperatures.
While such an ordeal is quite rare, according to Be Ready Utah Program Manager Wade Mathews, it is certainly still a possibility worth the attention of local drivers.
“We don’t hear about that very often, but it’s still something that we should all be prepared for,” Mathews explains to ABC4.com.
Mathews and Utah Department of Transportation Public Relations Director John Gleason both believe that many Utahns primarily make their commute along the Wasatch Front and don’t need to travel a tremendous distance each day. However, Gleason remembers a particularly brutal snowstorm in February 2008 that clogged traffic near the Point of the Mountain for several hours.
That’s as bad as he’s seen it get on Utah roads, he recalls.
Nowadays, if conditions are expected to make things dicey on the roads, Gleason is confident they’ll be able to alert drivers sooner and help them be better prepared as well as get the roads as clear as possible.
“I think our forecasting capabilities have improved since then,” he says. “We have a team of meteorologists that are always working, predicting where and when the storm is going to hit. Then, we know where we should allocate our resources and our plow crews and the time that we need to have our plows out there.”
Like Mathews, Gleason says being prepared as a driver starts with planning for the unexpected before hitting the road.
“It’s not something that’s likely to happen where you would get stuck for an extended amount of time in a storm but especially if you’re traveling in the mountains or the canyon areas, it’s something that we need to be prepared for.”
To that end, Mathews recommends stowing a few potentially life-saving items in the car. An extra layer of clothing, a blanket or sleeping bag, some water bottles, non-perishable food, and a phone charger are all recommended articles to keep in the glove compartment or trunk, just in case. Mathews adds that even more suggestions can be found at BeReady.Utah.gov and in this brochure.
His other piece of advice if you do get trapped in your car in a snowstorm: don’t try to hoof it and walk to more comfortable quarters. Staying in the vehicle can prevent a fall, from being struck by another car, and also provide a bit of shelter. However, it’s important to use a bit of judgment when turning the car on for the heat, Mathews adds.
“Stay with the vehicle, that’ll be the easiest place to be rescued, the most likely place to be rescued,” he states. “If you’re just traveling alone, stuck on a mountain road or someplace remote, you’ll want to stay.”
Luckily, situations like the one in Virginia aren’t commonplace, which is why it attracted so much media attention this week. One person reportedly had to remain in their rideshare vehicle the entire time (Can you imagine anything more awkward than that?). However, as with most things, it’s better to be safe than sorry.