HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – Last week was Snow Squall Awareness Week. A snow squall is a brief, but intense period of heavy snow and strong winds. Squalls create serious visibility concerns, including whiteout conditions, and can be extremely dangerous while driving.
“Drivers can’t see or stop, and pulling off to the side of the highway is not a safe option. Fully loaded tractor trailers suddenly require ten times the stopping distance, and their violent force is transferred to vehicles and their occupants in horrific pileups. I can say without hesitation that few weather events pose a greater threat to Pennsylvania highway motorists than snow squalls,” said Greg Devoir, Lead Meteorologist for the National Weather Service State College.
Devoir says it’s common for squalls to occur on mild days, with otherwise partly-cloudy skies, and for road temperatures to be above freezing when a squall arrives. The sudden drop in temperature creates one of the most dangerous aspects of squalls: flash freezes.
“When a squall arrives, it’s common for road surface temperatures to initially be above freezing, sometimes above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. In this situation, heavy snow initially melts on warm roads, but that liquid water turns to ice as temperatures fall,” said Devoir. “Combined with near whiteout conditions from a snow squall, flash freezes produce immediate, extreme and life-threatening impacts on highways,” he added.
Snow squall alerts are issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) to members of the public in an area where a snow squall is expected. If you receive an alert, officials say to plan accordingly and quickly.
“When you receive a snow squall warning via a wireless emergency alert on your phone, we are urging you to delay highway travel until the snow squall passes, or to safely exit the highway ahead of the snow squalls arrival,” said Devoir.
Throughout the week, state officials shared important safety reminders about snow squalls and what to do if you encounter one on the road.
“If you are driving on an interstate when a snow squall warning is issued, the best thing to do is gradually reduce your speed and exit the roadway at the next opportunity. If you do get caught driving in a snow squall, avoid slamming on your brakes, turn on your headlights and hazard lights, stay in your lane and increase your following distance,” said Jonathan Guseman, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist for NWS State College.
In the event of a pileup crash, state police say the safest place is most often in your vehicle with your seatbelt fastened. If you have to exit a vehicle in the event of an emergency, officials say to wait until it’s safe and to never stand near your vehicle if it’s on or near the roadway. Instead, search for safety behind trees, guiderails, and other safe barriers.
Officials also say it’s critically important to eliminate distractions and stay alert if you do encounter a squall. Drivers should also make sure their vehicle and family member’s vehicles are prepared for the winter by ensuring things like correct tire pressure, proper snow tires, proper tread and more.
More information and safety tips can be found here. Real-time winter travel conditions are available on 511pa.com.