Driving home in winter weather

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Peter Smedley/NW WINTER WEATHER—The U.P is home to heaps of snow, and while it has not hit yet, driving in these conditions is not far away.

Joad Blaauw-Hara

For decades, students of Northern Michigan University have driven home for winter break to get back in touch with their families and friends. This trip’s quality can vary greatly depending on many factors, but one in particular reigns above all: the weather. Northern Michigan is known for its seasonal snow and ice, which is often encountered when driving home from college. Lee Gould, fire marshal and safety department officer, spoke about what he sees drivers encounter the most when driving in the winter.

“Definitely one of the most common is going to be driving too fast for conditions, especially when people aren’t used to driving in snowy and icy roadways … Not slowing down enough, trying to rush to locations, and in general not adapting to the slippery conditions of the roadway. The second one I see quite a bit is failing to remove snow and ice from their vehicle, whether that’s the windows, mirrors, headlights and taillights and not having adequate visibility.”

The marshal also wanted to highlight the importance of keeping an eye on the Mackinac Bridge when planning a trip.

“Watch the conditions of the Mackinac Bridge if you’re headed downstate, because a lot of times they’ll close that bridge for high winds or reduced visibility. Sometimes they may close it for falling ice that comes off of the upper-supports. Just be aware that you have to watch those conditions and maybe plan ahead to delay your trip if there’s a significant snowstorm.”

Gould also offered some tips to avoid situations like this and remain safe on the roads.

“Just expect it’s going to take longer to get to your destination. Plan on driving slower, looking further ahead in traffic, and realize it’s going to take longer to stop your vehicle. Also, make sure you buy a good snowbrush and ice scraper and take the time to use those. Make sure not just your windshield is clear, but your side windows and back windshield is clear as well.”

Isaac Booms, a sophomore at NMU who studies outdoor recreational leadership and management, also offered some tips from his personal experience of driving home.

“Make sure your tires aren’t just normal summer tires. Take your time and let your family know what time you’ll be home and who’s house you’re going to.”

Booms also stressed that it’s always important to keep a clear head when on the road.

“It takes a lot longer to get home than what you’re used to, so you have to plan ahead a lot more. Just be calm because everyone else gets angry because of the bad conditions.”

This year, students from NMU will be heading home sooner than usual. This results in a decreased likelihood of snow and ice being a factor in the drive back home. Last year, Marquette didn’t experience any snow from Nov. 18-24. In 2018, though, major snowfall was recorded during this same time period with temperatures reaching as low as thirteen degrees. This underscores the large degree of unpredictability in weather conditions on the drive home, and the importance to consistently check for new weather updates.