DENVER (Nov. 25, 2019) – In many ways, it's the perfect storm: Severe winter weather will bring a foot or more of snow to much of Colorado through Tuesday night, at the same time that nearly a million Thanksgiving travelers will begin to mix with folks commuting to and from work.
The National Weather Service warns that travel may become "impossible" across the I-25 urban corridor and north of I-70 across the Eastern Plains.
AAA urges Coloradans to avoid driving until the storm has passed. If you must drive, slow down, be cautious, and prepare for worst-case conditions. Before heading out, visit CoTrip.org for the latest road conditions.
Effects on Thanksgiving Travel
Thanksgiving travelers headed to or through Denver International Airport through Tuesday evening should expect delays and cancellations. Check with your airline for travel advisories and potential itinerary changes.
Motorists should adjust their trips to avoid driving until the storm has passed. If you can't wait out the entire storm, Thanksgiving travelers should at least stay off the roads during the Tuesday morning and evening commutes, when traffic will be at its worst.
Coloradans traveling Wednesday should plan for lengthy delays, as folks with earlier travel plans instead join them on the roads and at the airport on what was already the single busiest travel day of the period.
Other than anticipating a transfer of travel volume from Monday and Tuesday to Wednesday, AAA Colorado is not adjusting its holiday travel forecast at this time.
Emergency Roadside Assistance
AAA Colorado will be fully staffed with essential personnel, and our emergency roadside assistance fleet will be out in full force. High call volume, treacherous conditions, heavy traffic, and road closures will sharply increase response times. Moreover, emergency assistance vehicles are only able to rescue stranded motorists on open, maintained roads. If a roadway is closed by an authority, AAA vehicles cannot legally and will not traverse it to provide emergency roadside assistance. AAA Colorado will be working in tandem with local governments and emergency personnel throughout the storm. Stranded motorists should follow local emergency guidance.
How to: Stay Safe
Hazardous storms and inclement weather are a factor in half a million crashes and more than 2,000 road deaths every winter, according to research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
If you can avoid driving, avoid driving – especially when it's busy.
- Stay in: If you don't absolutely have to drive in wintry conditions, don't drive. Appointments that can be re-scheduled for later in the day, should be.
- Stagger start: It almost goes without saying: The easiest way to both avoid traffic and creating traffic is to stay clear of the roads when everybody else is on them. If your employer offers staggered start times or work-from-home opportunities, look into those to avoid the morning rush.
- Early or later: A good rule of thumb is to plan to arrive to work much, much earlier or much, much later than you normally would.
Before You Head Out
- Time: The only way to drive safely in snow and ice is to drive slowly. Budget extra time for your morning commute. Even if traffic jams are minimal, it will take you longer to get to work because you will need to move more slowly – so avoid creating extra stress by budgeting at least twice the commute time.
- Parking brake: Avoid parking with your parking brake before and in cold, rainy or snowy weather. It can get frozen and may not disengage. For automatic transmissions, simply shift into park. For manual transmissions, shift into first gear when parking facing downhill or front-in and reverse when parking facing uphill or back-in.
- Wipers: Your wiper blades have been warning you for months that they're not ready for winter by streaking, screeching, or bouncing around on the glass. New wiper blades are among the cheapest pieces of safety-critical equipment you can purchase for your vehicle. They take only a couple of minutes to swap out, and most auto parts stores will do that for you immediately after purchase. Make sure you've got wiper fluid that won't freeze in winter, and plenty of it. After all, if you can't see clearly, you can't drive safely.
- Snow-covered car: If your car was parked outside during the storm, completely clear off all snow and ice before heading out. That means the windshield, your windshield wiper nozzles, the windows, the hood, the roof, the trunk, the mirrors and even the running boards. Everything. Why? When you start moving, that snow and ice will start moving with you. Once dislodged, it can seriously impair your ability to see – and even fly off and endanger other motorists . Why take the risk?
- Gas: Keep your gas tank at least half full to prevent a gas line freeze-up and potential long-term issues with your fuel pump. You'll be glad you have the extra gas in an emergency situation, to boot.
- Tires: If your low tire pressure warning light came on, fill up your tires to the level recommended by your manufacturer (in your owner's manual or on your door jamb). This is the recommended level specifically for cold weather, so you'll want to fill up before heading out and after your car has been sitting for a while. If you can't fill your tires at home, stop to fill them off before your commute. This light comes on specifically to warn you that you might not have enough pressure for the road conditions, so don't ignore it. If, once filled, your tires fail the quarter test for tread, it's time for new tires. Avoid driving, especially in wintry conditions, until you have them.
On the Road
- Gradual start: You have the greatest traction just before the wheels spin. Gentle pressure on the accelerator pedal when starting from a stop is the best method for retaining traction and avoiding skids. If your wheels start to spin, let up on the accelerator until traction returns. Do not use cruise control.
- Go slow: No matter what type of vehicle you have or what type of tires you're riding, it's plainly unsafe to drive as quickly as you would in dry conditions. Normal following distances for dry pavement (three to four seconds) should be increased to eight to 10 seconds. Give yourself even more space (12-15 seconds or more) if you are new to winter driving.
- Stay in your lane: On a four-lane highway, stay in the lane that has been cleared most recently. Avoid changing lanes because of potential control loss when driving over built-up snow between lanes.
- Steering: At speeds above 25mph, steering is the preferred way to avoid a crash – as less distance is required to steer around an object than to brake to a stop. In slick conditions, sudden braking can lead to a loss of control.
- Know your environment: Shaded spots, bridges, overpasses, and intersections are where you'll most likely find the slipperiest ice. Even if your commute was dry and manageable in parts, it is likely you will encounter ice along the way – so focus your attention as far ahead as possible and slow down as much as possible before driving over likely ice patches.
- Manage a skid: If you lose traction and begin to skid, stay calm to regain control of your vehicle. Always steer in the direction you want the front of the vehicle to go. Do NOT slam on the brakes, which will make it harder to regain control.
- Put the phone away: Put your phone in the glovebox, or, if used for navigation, in a secure mount. Do not read or send text messages, place a call, check social media, browse the internet, or adjust your GPS directions while moving. Distracted driving is always dangerous driving, and doubly so when challenging conditions demand your absolute attention at all times.
About AAA Colorado
More than 695,000 members strong, AAA Colorado is the state’s greatest advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 60 million members with travel, insurance, financial, and automotive-related services — as well as member-exclusive savings. A not-for-profit organization since its founding in 1923, AAA Colorado has been recognized as the number one Colorado company its size for its advocacy, community engagement, and corporate social responsibility efforts – and is a proud member of Points of Light’s “The Civic 50 Colorado,” recognizing the 50 most community-minded companies in the state. For more information, visit AAA.com.