Spring-like temperatures during the Christmas holiday and even last weekend — when light jackets were optional, let alone gloves and scarves — gave way to frigid temperatures and now Maryland commuters need to prepare for their first bout of winter precipitation during the afternoon drive Tuesday.
As of 5 p.m. Monday, the National Weather Service was predicting rain and snow showers between 1 and 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon before turning entirely to snow, with wind gusts of more than 30 mph. While accumulation is expected to be minimal (less than half an inch) the timing of the winter storm around the evening rush hour could make for dangerous conditions on Maryland roadways.
While we're not expecting "Snowmageddon" like a few years ago, when the weather and traffic incidents created because of it caused commutes to multiply in length, let's be honest, Maryland drivers don't always handle winter weather with ease.
"Even during fair weather days, the commute home for many is typically a stress-filled, challenging drive. Adding snow showers to the mix will make the evening drive home tomorrow even more problematic," Ragina Cooper Averella, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said in a prepared release. "We remind motorists to slow down and use caution as roads will be slick and packed as commuters make their way home."
There are a few other tips from AAA we'd like you to keep in mind before you embark on your drive home Tuesday. Make sure you clear any snow or ice from your windows and mirrors before you go anywhere, and start your car and let it heat up to melt some of it away. Visibility may be limited anyway with wind gusts blowing snow everywhere, so don't make it worse by leaving any accumulating ice or snow on your vehicle. Since it's the first snow of the season, make sure before you leave home that you pack your snow brush, ice scraper or de-icer, or pick some up on your lunch break if you forgot them.
Of course, it's not just about you being able to see, it's also about everyone else being able to see you. In Maryland, it's against the law not to have your headlights if you also have your windshield wipers on. It's also just a good idea, but you'd be surprised how many people forget to turn them on when there's still some light out, no matter how much precipitation is falling.
Speaking of windshield wipers, it's a good idea to make sure your washer fluid reservoir is filled up and maybe that you have an extra bottle in the trunk. Chemicals and salt on the roads can gunk up windows quickly, so you'll be using more than usual if your commute is extended. Some other stuff to keep in your trunk for the winter? A small snow shovel, a flashlight with fresh batteries, a blanket, extra clothing, and some nonperishable food like granola bars and bottled water. And of course, keep your cell phone fully charged.
Finally, make sure you know your brakes, as ice and snow can make using them a bit more tricky than usual. If you have an anti-lock braking system, keep the pedal down. If don't have ABS, pump the brakes gently at a rapid pace. If you do skid because of slick roads, try not to panic. Take your foot off the pedal and resist your natural instinct to fight the car. Instead, steer into the direction it's traveling to gain traction, then slowly begin to accelerate.
Hopefully, this storm will pass without much fanfare. But it's always better to be overprepared than underprepared. Drive safe!