Heading to play in the snow? Have fun, but leave prepared

Winter weather, road conditions and traffic can change quickly

PHOENIX ‒ There is snow in Arizona’s high country. 

When it applies, that news has many desert dwellers traveling to ski, sled, throw snowballs, make snowmen and more.

Too often, though, people make these trips without preparing for potentially harsh conditions and the possibility that crashes, breakdowns, traffic or some other problem will leave them in the cold far longer than anticipated. It isn’t unheard of for Arizona Department of Transportation employees and first responders to find stranded motorists wearing shorts.

ADOT offers many tips for driving in wintry weather at azdot.gov/KnowSnow, including wearing warm clothing and having jackets, blankets, gloves and scarves at the ready. But perhaps the most important advice for those traveling to play in the snow is this: Understand what you are heading into.

Winter weather and road conditions can change quickly. Snowfall and windblown snow create low visibility similar to a dust storm or heavy rain. While roads may be clear of snow, cold temperatures can leave ice on highways and especially on bridges. Backups caused by crashes can slow or close routes for extended periods, and traffic can be slow to and from popular snow-play areas.

So slow down. Be patient. Leave plenty of room between your vehicle and those ahead so you have plenty of room to brake. That also will help you avoid slamming on the brakes or jerking the steering wheel to avoid a collision, both of which can result in dangerous skids.

As tempting as it is to stop on the side of an interstate or a state highway and play in the snow, don’t. That’s dangerous not only for you but for other drivers, who may be distracted by seeing your car on the shoulder, and for first responders who may need access to the shoulder to help others. Snow thrown clear of the roadway by plows can be a danger to those stopped to play along an interstate or highway.

The bottom line: You and your vehicle must be prepared for any trip in wintry conditions.

For you, ADOT’s list of recommended items includes warm clothing and blankets, a fully charged mobile phone and charger, a flashlight with extra batteries, drinking water, healthy snacks, a first-aid kit and necessary medications. Get plenty of rest and take frequent breaks from driving. Plan your route and be ready for delays.

For your vehicle, make sure the gas tank is at least half to three-quarters full at all times, and ensure that your wipers, window defroster, headlights, taillights, brake lights and turn signals work. Snow tires, chains or studded tires may be required depending on the conditions.

To stay up-to-date with the latest highway conditions around the state, visit the ADOT Traveler Information Center at az511.gov or call 511. ADOT’s Twitter (@ArizonaDOT) and Facebook page (AZDOT) are excellent sources as well.