No matter how experienced you are with living in cold weather climates, “black ice” just sounds scary. As well it should, considering that an average of 467 people die annually from the dangers of black ice. Many more are injured or disabled each year from walking or jogging across black ice.
In this post, learn more about the many dangers of black ice and how to avoid encountering it while behind the wheel, on foot or anywhere.
Black Ice Explained
Black ice is a specific type of ice that is very hard to see. This is because it blends in with the surface it is covering, so when you look at the sidewalk, the bridge or the freeway, you don’t see any ice at all!
Certain conditions must be present in order for black ice to form:
- The temperature on the ground must be at or below freezing (32°F).
Rain or sleet is falling.
When these two conditions are present together, black ice can form. The falling rain freezes instantly when it hits the ground, forming a clear layer of ice over the area.
Black ice can also form when snow begins to melt and then it freezes again, causing the runoff to harden into clear ice.
Here, it can be helpful to remember that the term “black ice” actually translates to mean “clear ice” or “invisible ice.” In other words, if you are looking for black ice, you won’t find it until you are right on top of it.
This sums up the primary danger of being out and about during black ice-favorable weather conditions. You can’t avoid the dangers you cannot see, which makes for a higher likelihood of personal injury during the winter season.
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Black Ice Formation 101
The best way to stay safe is to avoid the dangers of black ice altogether. However, as the previous section makes clear, this is challenging to achieve!
Since typically you cannot spot black ice with your eyes, you need to learn everything else you can about when and how it forms to stay as safe as possible in winter.
For instance, black ice forms most frequently during the evening when temperatures drop and encounter melting snow, rain or sleet. This makes the night and dawn the most dangerous times to drive or walk on surfaces impacted by snow, rain or sleet conditions.
Frost or fog can also form into black ice in freezing conditions. It takes a surprisingly low amount of moisture to instigate conditions favorable for black ice formation – just a bit of melting frost or frozen low-lying “clouds” (fog) can form into black ice the moment temperatures hit that magic freezing set-point.
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Black Ice Safety Tips
- Follow these safety tips to avoid the dangers of black ice.
- Watch the outside weather conditions and temperatures closely, especially in the early morning, late evening and night hours.
- Check in with local weather news before heading out in black ice conditions.
- Choose winter shoes with extra sole stabilization for walking (hiking shoes can be a good choice).
- When driving across areas known to form black ice, take your foot OFF the accelerator and don’t try to steer.
- If you feel your car begin to slide or skid, you can pump the breaks (for anti-lock braking systems) or push down on the brakes (for non-ALS systems) to slow your slide.
- Do NOT rely on all-terrain or 4-wheel-drive vehicles to navigate black ice for you.