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Black Ice: Why It Happens And How To Navigate It

This photo provided by the Oregon Department of Transportation shows the scene of an accident on I-84 in Oregon Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015. Black ice is believed to be the cause of a freeway pileup involving more than a dozen tractor-trailers Saturday morning in eastern Oregon, police said.(Oregon Department of Transportation via AP)
This photo provided by the Oregon Department of Transportation shows the scene of an accident on I-84 in Oregon Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015. Black ice is believed to be the cause of a freeway pileup involving more than a dozen tractor-trailers Saturday morning in eastern Oregon, police said.(Oregon Department of Transportation via AP)

An invisible menace hit northern states from Oregon to Pennsylvania this weekend. Since Saturday, black ice has caused hundreds of accidents and at least five deaths.

Doyle Rice, who covers weather and climate for USA Today, joined Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to explain this winter threat, including why it happens and what to do if you encounter black ice on the roads.

He explained that black ice is actually clear — the blacktop pavement can be seen through this thin, all-but-invisible layer of ice. The danger of black ice comes from it being so difficult to spot.

Tips For Driving On Black Ice

If you’re anticipating possible black ice:

  • Turn your lights on.
  • Drive slowly and don’t tailgate.
  • If the roads look wet or dark, watch the vehicle in front of you. If the wheels aren’t leaving tracks or spraying water, it is likely black ice.
  • Do not use cruise control.
  • If you drive a manual transmission, shift to a lower gear for more control.


If you hit black ice:

  • Stay calm and keep the wheel steady. Don’t make any sudden movements.
  • Slowly lift your foot off the accelerator to slow down — don’t hit the brakes.
  • Don’t over-correct your steering if you feel the car sliding.
  • Hopefully your tires will soon find traction. Once they do, try to find a safe location (not the shoulder of the road) to park.

Guest

  • Doyle Rice, covers weather and climate for USA Today. He’s with us from his office in Mclean, Virginia. He tweets @usatodayweather.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.