March has officially arrived, and the frigid days of winter are starting to feel like a long-lost friend. Bouts of sunshine and warmth are inevitably right around the corner, however; winter threats are still very present in our everyday lives and it’s important to be realistic about potential accidents. While we may be gearing up for some outdoor fun after being cooped up for the past four months, freezing nights are still very common, which can cause patches of black ice when you least expect it.
What is black ice?
Unlike the ice that can be seen alongside a few patches of frozen snow, black ice is typically all on its own and goes undetected due to its transparency and thin consistency. We often associate black ice with roads and streets, however; it can also be found on walkways, doorsteps, and sidewalks; catching you off guard and resulting in an injury. Because March is known for its varying weather, this type of ice is very common. Even a light snow can result in black ice, as the moisture on the road can freeze overnight when the temperatures drop. Black ice is particularly common on bridges and overpasses, because the air circulates below and above the surface of the elevated roadway, causing the temperature of the bridge or overpass pavement to fall faster than normal. Certain patches of roadway that are more shaded than others will also be likely to form black ice. Rain is not uncommon in March and when puddles form in the road prior to a temperature drop, black ice can be the end result. The moisture in the air condenses, resulting in fog or dew, which then freezes on the road.
When you pair the unexpectedness of the black ice with the transparency of it, you have the ingredients for a bad accident. Whether black ice causes a slip and fall on the steps leading to your front door or a major car accident, there are a few tips that will help you avoid becoming a victim of this major road hazard.
Be vigilant. It’s always important to be vigilant when driving, however; it is especially important to be mindful of this thin and transparent ice since it can be very difficult to spot. While you may not always be able to detect black ice, if you see a patch of darker pavement it is a clear sign that you are in the presence of this lethal ice and potentially in harm’s way. If you see a drastic difference between one side of the street versus the other, then you’ve likely spotted black ice showing itself. Be sure to go slow and remain vigilant at all times when passing over bridges and overpasses, as well as walking on foot. Black ice can do just as much damage on your doorstep as it can on the road, and it’s important to ease onto your stairs or patio with caution, while maintaining control of your footing.
Watch the forecast. While the weather doesn’t always predict the proper amount of precipitation, it does typically paint an accurate picture of the temperature. If there has been a bout of precipitation, and the evening forecast is showing low numbers, then it is pretty safe to expect some patches of black ice. Nowadays most vehicles have a temperature display that allows you to see where the temperature stands while you are actually on the road. Like all things in life, preparation is key, and knowing how low the temperature will drop in advance, could prevent you from suffering from an injury on both the back steps and in your car.
Wear appropriate shoes. While you may be ready to put your winter boots away for good and pull out the less bulky footwear that you had stashed away all winter, it is in your best interest to leave your nonslip boots accessible for a bit longer. It will certainly benefit you to have well insulated and waterproof shoes with a wide, low heel and thick sole, as you try to navigate your way outdoors during the entire month of March. If your shoes are lacking a sole that grips the ground, then you may want to invest in a pair of ice grippers, which are removable cleats that are worn over your shoes, allowing for traction while walking through unpredictable terrain.
Master your weather walk. There are several ways to test out the ground before proceeding with your normal gait. When you go outside for the first time of the day, it’s best to slide your shoe on the approaching walkway or step, before you take a full-on step forward. Once you’ve tested the terrain, you will have a better idea of what you’re up against and you may need to continue with a flat-footed penguin shuffle if the area is icy. By taking short steps and walking flat-footed, you will be able to have control over your balance, preventing a slip and fall. Be sure to keep your head up and walk with caution. Try your best to only walk along areas that have a layer of salt on them, to add extra protection from a fall. Also, keep your hands out of your pockets and available to help break your fall should you lose your balance and fall.
Proceed with caution when getting out of a vehicle. Whether you are the driver or the passenger, when it’s time to step out of a vehicle, it’s best to step down and not out. When you step out and away from a vehicle, you are risking your center of balance and will be more likely to fall. Instead, try placing both feet on the ground, and keep your feet flat, as you grab onto the door frame for support as you stand up beside the vehicle. This works for stepping off of a curb as well. Be sure to never land heel-first, as you are setting yourself up for a backwards fall.
It’s important to never jump to conclusions when it comes to the expected seasons of weather. Just because we are well into March and technically at the start of spring, does not mean that you have to throw your winter weather caution to the wind. Weather hazards are more about the temperatures and precipitation and less about the seasons. For ice to form, the surface of the road must be at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, which means that there are plenty of days of potential icy driving conditions ahead of us.
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