When Mother Nature throws wicked winter weather our way, the difference between being safe and stranded can often come down to how prepared you are.
The following tips will ensure that you’re ready for whatever happens on the often wild winter roads, and alleviate some of the anxiety of taking to the road in winter.
Be aware of the forecast with Highway 80 traffic cams
This is really important. Use common sense – try to find a break in the storm if needed.
Our economy up here in Truckee appreciates your tourism – so I’d like to share a winter weather tool with you. Have you used the Cal Trans traffic updates and cameras? This may help to plan your (safe) drive up for your next Tahoe trip.
Find up-to-the-minute traffic updates for Highway 80 here.
Also helpful – images along highway 80 which will show a current picture of what the traffic and road conditions look like on the way to Truckee, Reno, and Lake Tahoe.
REMEMBER: when there’s snow – take it slow!!
Prepare your vehicle
Ensure that you’ll actually get to your destination safely by preparing the car for the trip. Check the car’s antifreeze and top it off, if needed. The manual that came with your vehicle will instruct you on how to check the levels.
I always check the wiper fluid in both mine and my wife’s vehicles – in the freezing Truckee weather it can be really dangerous when there’s ice stuck to your wipers, with road grime and ice being thrown onto your window from the vehicle in front of you.
Most times wiper fluid will do the trick – if not, you’re going to need to pull over. Make sure you’ve got a snow and ice scraper in your car for winter visits to mountain towns.
How are the tires looking? Check the pressure and add air if necessary. Then, check the tread, using the “penny,” as suggested by justtires.com. Insert a penny into the tread “with Lincoln’s head upside down and facing you,” they suggest. “If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, your tread depth is less than 2/32 inch and it’s time to replace your tires.”
In particularly wicked winter weather you may want to consider buying winter tires before hitting the road. This advice is also true if you are a vacation home owner or make frequent trips up to the snow. In storms and on below-freezing mornings, the performance of regular tires is simply not enough.
On Highway 80 in California, there are chain installers located on the roadside during winter storms who will help out if you do not have 4 wheel drive. However, I always suggest driving your all-wheel or 4 wheel drive vehicle for trips up to Truckee/Tahoe.
Other states may not have this as a fallback (Nevada for instance). They just close the roads and leave you to your own devices – so keep your eye on the weather.
And again, just take it really slow.
Create an emergency kit for the car
Your vehicle emergency kit should include:
- Ice scraper (credit cards can even work)
- Bottled water
- LED flashlights
- Extra clothes (especially shoes or boots and socks)
- First-aid kit
- Basic tools
- Jumper cables
- Matches or lighters
**OPTIONAL, yet good to have when you need it:
- Extra phone charger
- Battery-powered radio and extra, fresh batteries
- Tow chain or rope
- Fluorescent distress flag
- Sand (to pour under the tires, if needed)
What if you get stuck
Disasters happen when travelers make the wrong decisions about whether to stay put or go for help when they’re stuck on the road during a snow storm.
If you can’t see a safe location nearby, if you broke down on a road where rescue is unlikely, if you’re not dressed for the weather or you don’t have a way to call for help, pull off the highway, turn on the car’s hazard lights and stay inside the vehicle.
Run the engine and heater once an hour for about 10 minutes to keep warm. During these sessions, “open a downwind window slightly for ventilation and periodically clear snow from the exhaust pipe. This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning,” suggests the Department of Homeland Security.
If you don’t have a blanket, use whatever you can find in the car for insulation, such as seat covers, road maps and floor mats. Light exercise will also help you maintain body heat.
If, and ONLY if, (1.) you are dressed for the weather (several layers of warm clothing with moisture repellant outerwear, mittens, hat and a scarf to cover your mouth), (2.)the conditions outside are relatively safe and (3.) there is a nearby source of help, leave the vehicle to seek assistance.
- Drive only if it is absolutely necessary during heavy snowstorms.
- Always let someone know where you are going, which route you’ll be taking and your estimated time of arrival. Then, stick to the route without taking shortcuts.
- Monitor local weather conditions.
- GO SLOW
Taking simple steps before your road trip keeps you from being at the mercy of severe winter weather. And be patient – you’ll make it, eventually.