Before I became a truck driver, there was nothing better than a good snow storm in the winter. Sliding around in my 4-wheeler, sledding, snowball fights, snowmen, hearing the scrape of the snowplow as is passes by, and the beautiful sight it leaves. That was then, and this is now!
Living in Chicago, I've had my fair share of experience driving in the snow, but not in a semi. Things are much different in an 18 wheeler. Some for the better, and some for the worse. My first experience in a snowstorm was a doozy. I was driving from Salt Lake City, UT to Springfield, Mo. A major winter storm was being forecast along my entire route, with up to 3 feet of snow forecasted in the mountains, and blizzard conditions for eastern Nebraska and Iowa, then Ice Stormsfor Kansas and Missouri. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous.
My trip started off just as the leading edge of the storm was coming in. Nothing too bad, just a light dusting on the ground for my entire ride. I shut down for the evening in Western Nebraska and was thinking they might have over estimated the snowfall totals for the storm. Boy was I wrong. I woke up and there was about 6 inches of snow on the ground and still snowing extremely hard. I turned on my weather radio to discover this was only the beginning. "Well, I'll just see how far I can get and go from there" I said to myself.
So, I brushed off the truck as best I could, and hit the road. Surprisingly, the roads weren't in too bad of shape. Reason being, the wind was blowing so hard the snow wasn't really accumulating on the road. It was simply blowing right across, creating a disorientating illusion. I continued down the road, feeling pretty confident. But the snow continued to fall at a very fast pace.
The wind was blowing from left to right, and eventually, the left lane (hammer lane) began forming snowdrifts. This created a very scary situation. If another truck would pass, he'd hit the snowdrifts, the wind would catchthe snow, then blow it up on my windshield literally blinding me. It was immediate disorientation as the snow would swirl all around the windshield and I couldn't even see the hood of my truck. There were a ton of trucks off in the ditches, and I could tell it wasn't due to slick roads, it was because they were being blinded. It was easy to see their tire tracks into the ditch. They didn't slide, they simply drove off the road. I probably passed 20 to 30 cars and trucks in the ditch throughout the day.
Many drivers were being courteous. They'd call me on the CB and let me know they were going to pass. This allowed us to work together. He'd wait until there was a clear path in the left lane, and I'd move overand hugthe right shoulder a bit so he could avoid some of the snow drifts. I could also slow way down so he could pass quicker. While it was still a bit scary, working as a team helped a lot. Unfortunately, not everybody was willing to work together.
One truck passed me and slammed into several snowdrifts, completely blinding me for a fairly long period of time. By the time I could see again, I was all the way in the left lane. That spooked me big time. The snow was also coming down even heavier than before, it was getting dark, and the roads were quickly deteriorating. I wanted to prove to my company that I could handle it and keep going, but as a rest area approached, I decided to pull in. I got the last space in the rest area and called it a night.
When I woke up the next morning, I discovered that shortly after I pulled into the rest area, they closed the expressway down due to the number of accidents that were occurring. By this time, the road was back open and the storm had passed. I had a 12ft packed snow drift on my truck, and it took me an hour to dig out of it and get the truck moving.
Things were going well for a while, until I had to get on a backroad. The off-ramp to the backroad was completely ice covered and on a steep incline. As a line of trucks slowly climbed up the ramp, the traffic light at the end turned red. I tried to time it so I could keep moving until the light turned green again, but I ended up having to stop. Luckily for me, I was able to get the truck moving again and made the light. Unlucky for the trucker behind me, he was stuck and completely blocking the off ramp. I found out later the ramp was closed for over an hour while they towed him out...I was the last truck to make that ramp. Phew!
The back road was not much better. It had been closed the night before, but the snow was still packed down so tight, it created nothing but ice. It was a long 20mph ride and my knuckles sure did get a work out. I was in a line of trucks slowly working our way along, when we got to a downhill grade and a traffic light right at the bottom of the hill. I slowed way down, anticipating the light to turn red, which it did. The trucker in front of me hit the brakes, and the trailer began to swing out. She was in a jackknife. The trailer came to almost a 90 degree angle before the truck came to a stop, luckily causing no damage. It scared her so much that she needed to pull over though. Scary sight to see.
I ended up heading south into Missouri where conditions quickly got better, but up to that point, it was like a war zone. Cars and trucks spread all over the medians and shoulders. I've never seen so many accidents in my life. It was a long and slow trip, but I made it out unscratched and even made my appointment time.
Since then, I've hit some minor snow storms, but nothing too serious. It is definitely not an enjoyable experience to be in a major snowstorm, but I find myself laughing and enjoying the fact that I "beat the storm" once it's over. I was presented with a challenge, and I won!
For current and future drivers alike, no load is so hot that it needs to cool off in a ditch somewhere. When conditions get bad, continue to drive only if you feel comfortable. When you start contemplating stopping or pushing on, it's time to stop. We don't get paid enough to give our lives for whatever is in the trailer.
So, another first for me, and I got through it! It was a great learning experience, and has helped make me feel more confident. Let it snow!
Until next time, drive safely!