Imagine this: You’re driving along the highway on a cold, blustery day, traveling at a moderate speed. The sky is blue and the road is clear, with a clear line of sight to the cars around you. Suddenly, in an instant, a wall of snow envelops your vehicle, cutting visibility down to just a few feet. You can’t see the car in front of you anymore. You slam on your brakes and the next thing you know, you’re spinning out of control. Sounds pretty scary, doesn’t it?
The above event describes what can happen when you encounter a snow squall. Snow squalls are localized winter weather events that can happen (depending on where you live) without notice. But they don’t have to take you by surprise. What exactly is a snow squall and how can you stay safe if you find yourself driving in one?
What Is A Snow Squall?
A snow squall is defined as a brief intense snow shower with gusty winds that does not qualify as a blizzard due to its short duration.
But don’t let the word “brief” fool you—snow squalls can strike with such intensity that they can make driving conditions dangerous within split seconds. Different from a snow shower, squalls are feisty storms. Even if they only last a few minutes, snow squalls can dump a significant amount of snow in a short period, and those intense gusty winds can reach 50 mph. So think of them like a blizzard that only lasts about 30 minutes or less. They’re to be taken seriously. So much so that the National Weather Alert system has included snow squall warnings for your area.
Often the words “whiteout conditions” are used when describing snow squalls. The intensity of the snow coming down combined with high winds means not only is your visibility behind the wheel is greatly reduced, but whiteouts skew your perception of where the horizon is, causing disorientation. Combine that with snow blowing across the roadways, creating slick conditions, it can be a recipe for disaster. At the beginning of 2014, a snow squall was blamed for a 100-car pileup on Highway 400, just north of Toronto.
5 Tips For Safe Driving Driving In A Snow Squall
So what can you do if you find yourself in the middle of a snow squall while on the road?
Observe your surroundings: Sometimes you can see a snow squall coming. If you see one advancing toward you while you’re driving, try to pull off the road somewhere safe. Snow squalls arrive quickly, but they also tend to pass just as fast.
Wait It Out. Since they are fast-moving, it’s best to pull safely over to the side of the road, if possible, and wait it out.
Reduce speed: We hear it all the time from police but reducing your speed is your best defense in reduced visibility. You have to drive to match the conditions. Slow down!
Don’t slam on the brakes. Your instinct may be to slam on the brakes when a whiteout hits, but this increases your chances of getting rear-ended or sliding off icy roadways. Instead, slow down and keep a distance from the car in front of you.
Headlights on! In a whiteout, make sure your headlights are on, and if you need to, turn on your emergency hazards (“flashers”), to alert other drivers that caution is needed, plus, this gives them a better chance of seeing you.
It’s important that every driver has an emergency kit in the vehicle containing such items as drinking water, food, a blanket, a first-aid kit, and a flashlight. Read our list of must-have items for winter driving here.
Being prepared is your best defense against any weather event.