On another occasion, my vehicle spun out of control on the highway. My SUV with four-wheel drive somehow managed to do a 180 after entering a snowy highway from an onramp. I ended up facing the wrong direction on the highway at night! Thankfully, no one was coming down the highway at the time, as the conditions were so bad most people were indoors. It definitely shook me up, but I got my SUV turned around and continued along my way slowly.
The ‘Col De Forclaz’ mountain pass that connects Chamonix, France to Martigny, Switzerland regularly closes due to avalanche instability because the road winds up a steep-sided mountain face that continues high above the road.
About 20 minutes before I reached the start of the pass, a snap snow storm hit and was much heavier than the predicted 2cm. After 30 minutes of driving, the road was covered in 20cm of snow and was continuing hard. Driving up the pass was ok, but coming back down was like being in a bob-sled, except sideways (even with chains on). The gradient of the road, the weight of the truck, the volume of snow, and how it packed into a hard icy surface all culminated into making quite an exciting drive.
On some other rare occasions, we got to experience avalanches pouring past next to the road through channels in the terrain. It got more nerve racking when the traffic in front of us ground to a halt, while a faint rumbling, followed by a white cloud, grew larger and traveled across the road in front of us.
Fortunately, such things are often the result of carefully controlled measures of emergency services that clear unstable slopes while keeping everybody out of harm’s way.
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Not deterred by snow, my Pacific Northwest-raised husband said, “No problem. We’ll grab a rental car in Atlanta and drive the rest of the way.” We landed in Atlanta and there was no snow on the ground. Perfect. After dragging our two, sleep-deprived kids to the rental car area and getting car seats installed, we were off. The drive should have taken about 4 hours. About an hour into the trip, the snow started. For the next couple of hours, it was coming down hard, but nothing was sticking on the road and the temperature remained above freezing. At that point, it was no worse than driving to resorts to snowboard.
Finally, we arrived in Greenville, where we were supposed to land – over 4 hours earlier. When we hit this part of the drive, the snow was just starting to stick. However, the roads were becoming increasingly treacherous as we continued. There were cars in ditches, trucks spun around, and semi-trailers stopped on grades in the middle of the road with flashers on. At this point, we seriously contemplated grabbing a hotel if we could find one, but we were so close.
We pushed on in our rental Camry the remainder of the way and finally made it to my parents’ house where they had accumulated over 14 inches of snow. It was eight full hours after we should have arrived. We parked the car partway up their steep driveway and traipsed our bags the remainder of the way to their house.
Two days later, after the roads were clear, we headed out to return the rental car only to get it stuck at the end of the driveway.
Expect to see cars flying off the road, snowed in, or abandoned. It sounds crazy, but it is common. Tourists are often unprepared for the strong snowstorms that can come without warning. The wind alone takes many a car out, and you should expect to encounter this!
Driving in Iceland? Make sure it’s in the daylight and make sure you have experience driving in the snow. We stopped to assist one group that got stuck on top of the mountain.
I decided to move my arrival day to the 7th instead, wanted to beat the storm and get there early, but I had a hair cut appointment on the 7th, and I didn’t want to miss it. (I wanted to look good for the event.) The hair appointment ended up getting behind schedule, and I left Massachusetts right after 1:30 PM. It wasn’t snowing yet, and I wanted to make it there before it started.
I had always heard the storm starts north and then moves south, and if NH and MA hadn’t gotten it yet, I was going to be fine. What I didn’t know was that this time it was coming from the south going north, and once I crossed into Connecticut, it was obvious that the snow was coming quite fast and strong. But I kept on going. I was going to make it! My colleagues at the retreat were calling me to abort the trip, but I insisted I was going to be okay. “Living in New England, I’m used to driving in snow,” I thought.
Right after the call, the snow started coming down like I haven’t ever seen before. The winds were strong, and the windshield wiper wasn’t able to keep it clean and clear. It was wet snow, too, and it started to pile up to the sides of the windshield, but I had a commitment, and I wasn’t going to quit until I got there.
The GPS kept delaying my arrival, and I couldn’t see the road anymore. There were no lanes, and the trucks (the only ones on the road) were driving all over the roads, regardless of lane lines. Then I started to see trucks all lining up on the side of the highway, and the snow just kept on increasing. The GPS once again showed I could save more than one hour by using an alternative route, so I did. I just wanted to get off of the highway and out of the nightmare that was developing right in front of my eyes.
That was when I made the biggest mistake of my life, I was re-routed to country roads that lead to a state park. There were only trees with branches so heavy with snow that they were hanging down on the road. The lake was dark and scary, and I was going up hills and down very steep descents. I was sliding everywhere, and I was all alone—no one, no houses, no cars, but me lost in a state park in the middle of a powerful nor’easter. I didn’t cry or panic, but I prayed with all the faith that I had, and I was determined to find my way out of there.
Out of nowhere, I saw a small truck that was stuck in the snow. When I reached it, there was a man inside who looked at me like I was crazy but pointed me into the right direction. He told me that the highway was closed, but if I turned right, I was going to see a bridge. After the bridge was an exit I could take. After crossing the bridge, a police officer was waving at me to take the exit, and so I did. I was in search of a hotel room to spend the night, but I wasn’t sure of what I was going to find. After trying three hotels and no availability, I couldn’t venture outside and drive anymore. That was it, the storm was at full power, and I couldn’t see anything in front of me. I told the lady at the front desk, I was going to stay in the lobby and just rest on the couch until morning.
That’s when two guys approached me and asked if I wanted to take one of their rooms. I was grateful for them, thankful that I was safe and happy to have a bed to sleep on for the night. The next day was a gorgeous morning and the roads were clear by the time I left the hotel. I was just one hour away from my final destination.
I was happy that the road was closed. Otherwise, I would have continued with the last hour of my drive on a winding and mountainous road. I know I would have never survived if I hadn’t stopped for the night. On March 7, the powerful nor’easter brought up to 36 inches of heavy snow, whiteout conditions, and even coastal flooding. The storm caused up to 1 million people to lose power, and at least two people were confirmed dead due to the storm. Hundreds of flights were canceled across the region.
As I drove on the interstate to get to a Packers game, a car in front of me couldn’t stop in the wet sleet. It wasn’t the good kind of snow that had freshly fallen, it was the snow that had fallen a few days before. The salt spread on the road and freezing temperatures made it an icy disaster.
A small Ford Fiesta slammed on the brakes and rear-ended the vehicle in front of it, causing a chain reaction in a lineup of vehicles that were unable to stop. I counted what must have been 10 to 15 cars that all slid on the icy roads into the rear of the next car. Nobody hit hard enough to cause injuries, but for a Florida boy that goes to the beach on Christmas, a 15 car pile-up from nasty road conditions was a first for me—and quite traumatizing.
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