If you are a winter sports enthusiast, you enjoy playing sports, or you just enjoy being physically active during the winter, it’s important to keep safety in mind when you go out. Not only is it practical to select the best gear for safety purposes, but it’s also important to be mindful of all the surrounding elements during the winter months as well. From dressing in layers to wearing sunglasses to stave off snow blindness, keeping safety first should be at the top of your list.
If you live in a cold climate, you’re probably already familiar with black ice. But if you live in a warm area and are going on a winter skiing or snowboarding vacation, you may not have ever heard of it. Everyone needs to know what black ice is and how to deal with it, whether they’re just driving to and from work, are driving to a ski resort for a weekend getaway, or are just trying to take a walk outside.
Black ice can be dangerous, so it’s important that you be prepared for it. This is why we’re here—to give you all the information you need to stay safe this winter, no matter where you are or what your experience is.
Table of Contents
What is Black Ice?
Black ice is a very thin coat of ice that covers a road’s surface that is difficult or impossible to see due to its coloration. “Black ice” is a bit of a misnomer. Black ice isn’t actually black—it’s completely clear ice that takes on the color of whatever is beneath it. In most cases, that is black asphalt, which is where the name comes from. However, some people do refer to black ice as “clear ice,” though it is less common.
How Black Ice Forms
In order for black ice to form, moisture in the air needs to freeze at a rapid pace and attach itself to already-frozen pavement. Unlike normal ice, black ice doesn’t have any air bubbles in it, and that’s why it appears perfectly clear instead of white.
How Dangerous is Black Ice?
As you’ve know, black ice can be extremely dangerous due to its transparency. What that means for drivers is that they are less likely to see roads containing black ice as they are approaching them.
Black ice causes roads to become extremely slippery, which can result in exceptionally dangerous driving conditions and also increases the risk of car crashes. Black ice often results in vehicles becoming completely out of control.
The Dangers of Ice
According to the United States Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Auto Insurance Center,
- Each year there are 1,836 deaths on average and 136,309 injuries that take place as a result of icy and snowy road conditions.
- Icy road conditions are responsible for 3.6 times more deaths than all other hazardous road conditions combined.
- Roughly 3,200 Americans were killed in vehicle-related accidents attributed to the freezing rain, snow, sleet, or ice from of 2011 to 2015.
- There were more than 1,200 deaths during the wintertime that were associated with motor vehicle accidents during 2013.
- In 2015, the deadliest time of day during the winter months that resulted in car accidents was between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday is the deadliest day of the week when 286 deaths occurred, followed by Friday that was the second deadliest day of the week, where 197 deaths occurred.
According to Ice Road Safety, the area that has the snowiest and icy road-related deaths on average takes place in the Midwest areas near the Great Lakes. States with the largest number of deaths on average consist of the following:
- Pennsylvania has reported 26 fatalities
- Michigan has 18 reported fatalities
- Indiana has 14 fatalities, and
- New York has 14 reported fatalities
It’s important to remember that these statistics aren’t commenting on the quality of the drivers in each state. Pennsylvania is a state full of hills and mountains, which are naturally a lot more dangerous to drive on than flat land in the winter. And Michigan, with its more than 11,000 inland lakes and five Great Lakes, has a lot more lake effect snow than other states. Factors like these drastically influence driving conditions and the risk involved with driving during the winter.
Spotting Black Ice
Black ice is almost impossible to see, and it can form almost anywhere on the road. It tends to be a bit tricky as it takes on the form of water in its appearance. But here’s how you can spot black ice in an effort to avoid an accident from occurring. First, if the air happens to be 32° or lower at the road’s surface and there is also rain or moisture in the air, there’s a great chance that there might be black ice present.
So the thing that you want to be looking out for is the temperature. Anytime the temperature drops to 32° or below it’s pretty safe to assume that any wet spots that you notice most likely have the appearance of water but is likely like ice.
Of course, spotting black ice is somewhat difficult because of its transparency. Thankfully, there are a few things that you can do to spot black ice during the icy cold winter months.
- Discoloration: When roads appear particularly darker than normal that is a telltale sign that black ice could be present.
- Wet road surfaces: If the road appears to be wet that is usually another indicator that black ice may be present. Although it could easily be water, when roads look wet during the winter, it could actually be that black ice is present
- Look for Signs: Another telltale sign that black ice may be present is if you also notice the appearance of icy conditions on other items such as overpasses, bridges, and the like. They should alert you to be on the lookout for black ice on the road ahead.
If possible, watch your local news channel for the weather report before leaving the house. If there is a prevalence of black ice, there will be warnings so you can take it into account when planning your commute or other outings.
Know When Black Ice Forms
Knowing when black ice forms is another way that you can be forewarned. It typically forms when a rainfall takes place during the time when the temperature of the air near the surface of the road is at or below the freezing point. Black ice can also take place whenever ice or snow begins to melt and then freeze again on the surface of the road.
Being armed with this information should allow you to be more aware of the temperature while you’re driving on the road. You should also pay particular attention to a decrease in temperature and also understand that even though the temperature may be at one level, the temperature on the surface of the road may be lower than it is in the air.
Walking on Black Ice
Although walking on black ice is not nearly as dangerous as driving on black ice, it does present some reason for caution. The best way to walk over icy surfaces is to take very tiny steps to prevent slippage. Another approach consists of spreading gravel or similar material over the walkway to add a grip and more friction. Adding salt is also known as a deicing agent that can be used to make it easier to walk on black ice when absolutely necessary.
Walking on black ice should be avoided whenever possible. However, if you find that you must be out when black ice is present, try scratching the surface with the use of a shovel or an ice spade. This can be used to mar the road’s surface, which makes it easier to see the walkway. It also creates a bit more traction as it’s been walked over as well.
It’s also best not to put your hands inside your pockets as this tends to increase the chances of breaking your bones should you happen to slip and fall. Keep your hands where you can try to catch yourself if you fall, and wear gloves or mittens to protec them from the cold.As an additional precaution, it’s important to identify any kind of warning signs that may be posted in the area. Wearing the proper shoes in winter weather is also great for avoiding slippages. Particularly shoes with some form of friction.
While not walking, it is possible to come across black ice while ice skating. Black ice can form on frozen lakes, so if you decide to go play hockey on the nearby lake, you need to keep an eye out there as well.
Driving on Black Ice
As could be expected, driving on black ice has many dangers. Below are some things that you should be mindful of while driving when black ice is present.
When driving on black ice, you’ll want to drive slow and steady just as you would if you were driving in the snow, particularly when driving over various patches of black ice. Unlike snow, however, which does provide some traction to your tires, black ice is just the opposite. It is very smooth, and there is absolutely no traction at all, which means that it can be really hard to stop if you happen to be driving too fast. What you should do instead is take your foot off the accelerator right away whenever you drive over a patch of black ice.
It’s also extremely important to keep the wheel straight and avoid turning the wheel. Otherwise, rather than coasting safely over the ice, you will increase the chances of losing control of the vehicle. Once you begin to skid, it’s safer to turn into the skid.
Don’t Use Your Breaks
You should avoid breaking or pumping the brakes when driving on black ice. Although your first inclination may be to pump the brakes as you would in other driving emergencies, it will actually do more harm than good when driving on black ice. You should only gently brake to avoid losing control and going into a full skid. Otherwise, the situation can be a lot of worse and could even result in fatalities.
Know How to Handle a Skid
What should you do if you begin to skid? The main thing is to stay in control and avoid making the situation worse, which can happen relatively quickly if you make the wrong move.
One of the biggest mistakes that many drivers make when driving on black ice is reacting in the wrong way. This normally results in them losing complete control of the car, often causing it to spin. To regain control, simply turn the vehicle into the skid while you’re pumping the brakes. As the skid begins to break, then you can go back to steering the car as normal. The thing is to ensure that your tires regain traction on the road. That’s when you’ll find it easier to continue on from that point.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
It’s extremely important to be aware of your surroundings if you suspect black ice may be present. For example, you should look out for signs of black ice by monitoring whether other areas have a presence of ice. You should also be watching for temperatures that drop to 32° or lower. In this case, you should expect there to be a presence of black ice.
You should also be cautious when monitoring your vehicle’s external thermometer. Even though it may read as one temperature on the thermometer, It could be completely different on the surface of the road.
It’s easy for people to only focus on winter dangers like frostbite or hypothermia, but everyone needs to know about black ice as well. Hopefully, the information above has shed some light on the dangers of black ice and what you could possibly do should you become faced with black ice. And remember, being forewarned is being forearmed. Please use this information as a guide and as a safety precaution as you travel to and from your various sports venues as you participate in winter sports activities.