Spring in December seemed to have sprung last Saturday when the sun was shining and the mercury rose above 40 degrees. The prediction of freezing rain for Sunday appeared way off the mark.
On Sunday, Delaware County and the greater Philadelphia area were walloped with 6 inches of snow, in the matter of a few hours. Christmas shoppers who left their cars clean and dry in parking lots emerged to find them buried in the white stuff which appeared to have been dumped from the sky.
Even the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation was taken by surprise, despite having sprayed roadways with brine Sunday morning to counteract the expected freezing rain.
"If we had known it was going to be this severe, we would have had our full call-out done before it started," said PennDOT Assistant Press Secretary Gene Blaum.
Four hundred and fifteen trucks were plowing out the roadways in the Delaware Valley by late Sunday afternoon.
But that didn't stop fender-benders, low-speed collisions and even a fatal crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Downingtown, Chester County, that had a domino effect on more than 50 cars, causing some to overturn. Motorists that skidded off the roadways became stuck in the snow at dangerous high-traffic intersections. The combination of the unexpected snowfall with holiday shoppers created massive delays throughout the region.
Weather-related accidents on the Delaware Memorial and the George C. Platt bridges caused both spanners to be closed at one point Sunday. It was just pure luck the Platt was reopened in time to accommodate the additional crush of traffic created by home-going Philadelphia Eagles football fans.
Predictions were more accurate for Tuesday when, after a relatively mild Monday, the snow returned. This time highway crews were prepared for the 3 to 6 inches of wintery precipitation.
Whether motorists are taken by surprise or not, they should always be prepared for risky road conditions in the winter months. Sometimes the least apparent hazards can cause the greatest damage as can happen with very transparent but treacherous "black ice."
There are some basic precautions drivers should take at this time of year such as keeping their gas tanks and windshield washing fluid reservoirs full, their tires properly inflated, their engines tuned and their batteries, belts, hoses and radiators in working order.
They should equip their vehicles with ice scrapers or snow brushes, de-icer sprays, bags of salt or sand, flashlights, battery jumper cables, paper towels, blankets, warning devices such as flares or flags and, if they don't have snow tires, tire chains.
Once behind the wheel in inclement weather they should fasten their seatbelts, reduce their speed, keep their headlights on, maintain at least twice the normal following distance to prevent rear-end collisions and maintain at least six car-lengths behind snow plows that should not be passed because their plow blades are wider than the trucks. They should be extra-cautious on bridges and elevated ramps because they freeze before regular road surfaces.
Better yet, they should car-pool or take public transportation to lessen traffic if they can't just stay home.
One cowboy in a maroon sports utility vehicle headed into Delaware from Delaware County around 2 p.m. Sunday decided he didn't want to wait in line behind other vehicles inching along Philadelphia Pike and sped past them on the right through an unplowed lane, only to be halted by another sports utility vehicle that had spun-out and landed in an Evraz steel mill fence. He and the motorists around him were lucky he didn't cause another deadly chain reaction.
If he had continued his reckless driving a block further he may have run over children who were sledding down the hill in front of the steel mill headquarters. It is not unusual for runaway sleds or snowball fights to end up on slippery streets.
Mother Nature may sometimes play tricks on human beings to keep us humble. We shouldn't use the occasion to also prove that we are idiots by driving irresponsibly.
- The Delaware County Daily Times