Winter Weather Hazard – Freezing Rain

Posted on November 25th, 2011 by James Luckhurst

Winter Weather Hazard – Freezing RainIt is late at night and Steve Sorrell is heading along a French motorway in his VW Passat. It is raining but the motorway is fairly quiet except that the van ahead appears to be attempting a U-turn.

Sorrell dabs his brakes. But nothing happens. Freezing rain has rendered the road surface lethal and the van driver is not turning voluntarily but spinning waywardly.

Steve gently changes down through the gears. To his left, he sees a driver climbing from a Renault that is buried in the central reservation; seconds later, he hears a crunch as another out-of-control vehicle ploughs into the back of the stricken car.

He says: “In an instant I went from gentle cruise mode to complete panic. There wasn’t much traffic about but I had no quick way to stop and no steering control. I was very lucky to get through without hitting anything.”

Experts point out that ice forms easily – even on treated road surfaces. Rain quickly dilutes road salt and the authorities sometimes don’t have time to replace it. When more water falls on a sub-zero surface, it creates a thin film that freezes instantly. It looks wet, but suddenly you can’t brake or steer.

Freezing rain is rare in Britain, though when it occurs it invariably leads to a rash of accidents.  Freezing fog is, of course, nearly as treacherous. Your windscreen becomes smeared and caked with salt, your screen washers don’t work and the only option is to stop the car and clear the mess.

Black ice – caused when existing road moisture freezes – often catches drivers out all over northern Europe at this time of year. But even when forecasters issue warnings, it is hard to predict exactly where it will occur, because road temperatures can vary by up to five degrees in a very short distance – perhaps just 100 yards.

The important thing is not to panic if you unexpectedly hit a patch of ice: avoid any sudden moves with your hands or feet – and try to plan an escape route, preferably towards something as soft as possible.