Trucking Tips For Winter Driving

Since I live in the great northwest, I have to drive through some of the worst areas for winter driving that mother nature can dish out just to get home. I have seen a lot of wild weather in my time on the road. I wanted to pass along tips and hope that other road veterans will do the same and post their comments and tips here to help the newer drivers who drive for a living and our 4 wheeled friends who drive with us and share the road.

Crossing the great plains from the east to get to the northwestern Montana area has it’s own potentially deadly areas of concern. Winter winds can howl and produce low or no visibility in a very short amount of time. Storm fronts can be preceded by a wall of wind that can take any driver and put them in an instant whiteout situation that can prove very hazardous.

Winds have been know to come up on the plains and remove the ability to see where you are going and take the outside temperatures way down very quickly. This wind chill effect can be deadly if you are outside, but can also reduce the operating temperature of your engine quickly and freeze your fuel filters and fuel lines. This in itself can be a real problem. One tip is to use a diaper taped over the fuel filter to reduce this problem and add extra fuel treatment in your tanks to counter this. Also using a higher ratio of blended fuel will help.

Coming from the south through the great state of Wyoming has it’s places that have been blowing winds for 10,000 years and just because we built a highway there does not mean that mother nature will change her wind patterns. Winds whipping snow across the highway and then having it get run over by tires produces what I call “rumble ice”. This is my own name for it, but it can cause loss of control if your load weight is down and you lose steering or get pushed in a direction you don’t want to go.

Wyoming closes down sections of both interstates I-25 and I-80 on a regular basis. Rawlins and Casper areas always have problems, those of us who drive the west know about these areas and plan ahead for problems even on a sunny day. The state of Wyoming dot has road signs that offer road reports and give the current conditions or warnings in mostly real time. I like these new reader boards on the highway, they give a heads-up of sorts to those who are not aware. High wind warnings are also given for high profile vehicles. This is a good thing also so you know the winds may be whipping up that day.

Cabbage pass in Oregon is one of the other problems areas on I-84 and all the winding highway miles that pass through the canyons along the river. This brings problems in itself, moisture from the river, winding roads and steep grades bring a possible deadly combination, and that is before you get to cabbage pass. As you approach cabbage from the east, you will see warning signs. When you see the final warning sign, they mean it, gear down for your load and be ready. You will see a patchwork quilt-like group of fields below if you have visibility, and you will be at the same altitude of small aircraft. I am not kidding, be ready and plan ahead.

Washington state has a few problem areas. Snoqualmie pass is the biggest problem due to the nature of how it is built. Going west some of the road is built on stilts. They have a lot of avalanche problems and close the road to clear this for travelers. Plan ahead and ask about pass reports before you get stuck there. The T.A.  truck stop at North Bend is the only place close by to stage for opening up the pass along with the 2 scales.

Vantage hill crossing the Columbia river is another wind and ice problem, This is on I-90 and you may have some problems there if certain conditions exist. There is a steep grade going both ways as you are going down the Columbia river basin.

Washington has lost some of it’s parking for truckers. When the flying j truck stop burned down some years ago off of I-5, they did not replace it and we suffer because of it.

The passes through Idaho and Montana on I-90 can of course be a real problem. Steep and winding, they have the normal associated hassle of steep and icy roadways that wind along parts of some rivers and even some stilt or elevated highway road beds. These ice up first, with no earth under them to regulate the temperatures on the road. Be aware of this for you that are new to this type of road.

Most chain laws require you to carry 4 sets of chains. I advise real chains and not cables, cables just get torn up and will not help you much. I do not chain up myself, if it’s that bad then I will camp out and wait for the DOT to remove the chain restrictions on any pass.  I chained up once bobtail just to get home 300 yards. I had no trailer weight to give me traction, so I did chain up once.

I have mentioned it before but will recap here.

Carry extra food and water. Blankets to stay alive if broke down with no engine to keep you warm. Use cardboard over the radiator to reduce windchill effect on your engine operating temperature and to stay warmer.

Use a diaper over the fuel filter to reduce fuel gelling. Use extra fuel treatment as needed to reduce the chance of fuel gelling.

Reduce speed and following distance, I like a quarter mile or more following distance if possible so I can react and move slowly to another lane or try to stop in case there is a major incident in the road ahead. I do not get in a hurry in the winter. If somebody would try and force me to drive faster for some kind of delivery schedule that I would call unreasonable, then they would get the common answer I always give. “I will make it according to driving conditions and in winter, all bets are off”. I will not be forced by anyone to drive faster or do anything stupid to put my safety or my clean record in jeopardy. That is the bottom line here, make your line in the snow be known and do not go over it. It is your life and those around you depend on you not being a dummy.

Stay safe out there this holiday season,

Jim

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