December 23rd, 2008. Two days before Christmas. Bands of light freezing rain silently sweep across the Midwestern United States, laying down a thin coating of ice on roads. By the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, at least 49 people have lost their lives. Not by a tornado outbreak – not by a flood – but by a subtle and invisible sheet of ice that sent their vehicles out of control. January 18, 2015. Rain showers move over a shallow layer of frigid air across the northeastern United States. The raindrops freeze on contact, causing chaos across this highly populated region. Hundreds of accidents, dozens of injuries and at least eight deaths later, in just a few hours this light freezing rain event had earned itself a name: “Icezilla”. When it comes to extreme weather, light freezing rain typically doesn’t come to mind – but it should! When freezing rain is in progress, it has a death and injury rate far surpassing any other type of weather – more than tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and thunderstorms. Freezing rain is simply normal liquid rain that is falling into a layer of below freezing air at the surface. The raindrops freeze on contact with objects on the ground, forming a glaze of transparent ice. For freezing rain to happen, there needs to be a warm layer of air in the atmosphere situated above sub-freezing air at the surface. Freezing drizzle and freezing fog are similar to freezing rain, where tiny supercooled raindrops form in the cold air and freeze on contact to any object they touch. Freezing rain, freezing drizzle and freezing fog all produce the same type of dangerous icing on road surfaces. In terms of freezing rain, you’re probably more familiar with ice storms, which are result of a heavy or long-duration freezing rain events that can bring down trees and power lines. But it doesn’t take an ice storm to create a disaster. The smaller precipitation amounts during light freezing rain are still capable of significant impacts. Not only does freezing rain take its toll on human life, its thin sheets of ice can shut down entire cities, overwhelm emergency responders, disrupt commerce and cause millions in property damage. The events mentioned at the beginning of this video weren’t even close to reaching ice storm criteria, but they still inflicted heavy casualties exceeding that of most tornado outbreaks. Freezing rain’s danger comes from two lethal characteristics. The first one: Stealth. In many cases, it isn’t possible to visually distinguish between a wet road from a freezing rain glazed road. They look deceptively similar. The term “black ice” ice refers to how the transparent icing will allow the color of the road surface to show through, hiding the presence of the ice from drivers. This means it’s not always black. Ice on concrete will look tan or grey, the same color of the normal road surface. (on scene cameraman) “This is an icy bridge…” “…freezing rain – very difficult to see….” “….extremely treacherous” The second deadly characteristic of freezing rain icing is its slickness. Icing from freezing rain produces the most slick road surface (the lowest coefficient of friction) of any type of winter precipitation. It is exceedingly treacherous. In many cases, it’s not possible to drive on any sloped surface without sliding out of control. When it comes to driving in freezing rain, there’s only one sensible course of action: Don’t do it! There’s no safe speed on this type of ice. You can slide off of the road even when moving at a crawl. Furthermore, its stealth means that you aren’t always going to be able to see it in time to slow down. During freezing rain icing, it’s not uncommon for completely stopped vehicles to slide sideways off of a sloped road and into a ditch. There have even been cases of parked unoccupied vehicles sliding down hills! Vehicle safety features like anti-lock brakes, stability control and winter tires are much less effective – and in some cases, completely useless – on this type of ice due to the low amounts of friction. And you can forget about trying to correct a slide on this type of ice. No level of skill can defeat the laws of physics! The bottom line is, your chances of property damage, injury and death are higher when driving during freezing rain than in any other type of extreme weather or road condition. Simply put: postponing your travel during freezing rain is the best course of action. It’s just not worth the risk! Don’t let freezing rain catch you by surprise. Be aware of the warning indicators that freezing rain is in progress. Pay attention to any weather forecast mentioning a wintry mix, freezing rain, freezing fog or freezing drizzle. Watch for any rain drizzle or mist falling during temperatures that are near or below freezing. Watch for ice forming on your windshield wipers, antennas, windows or side mirrors. These are a telltale indicator of freezing rain. As a rule, if ice is sticking to anything you see, it could also be forming on roads and bridges. If you’re in the middle of a journey and encounter freezing rain, first of all, reduce your speed. Get off of high-speed roads such as interstates and two-lane highways. It’s not safe to travel at slower speeds among fast-moving traffic, especially when icing is a threat and others may not be aware of the hazard. Think about it – if you come upon a pileup, even if you stopped in time, vehicles approaching behind you may not! Avoid all hills and sloped surfaces. If at all possible, use low-speed surface streets to reach your destination. Be prepared for treacherous icing that affects your ability to stop at intersections and negotiate curves. Be aware of these locations that can ice first during freezing rain: bridges and overpasses; elevated structures like parking garages and ramps; highway off-ramps; lower traffic surfaces such as rural roads and parking lots; brick or cobblestone streets are notorious for icing quickly during freezing rain. Finally, expect any untreated road surface during freezing rain to be ice! If all else fails and you do have an accident, first and foremost, be aware of additional out-of-control vehicles! You’re not going to be the only one to hit that patch of ice. Many injuries and deaths occur from secondary or follow-up collisions, especially when people exit their vehicles and stand in the middle of the road. If your vehicle is still drivable, move it away from the scene and far off of the road. The simple presence of your vehicle on or near the road could trigger more accidents. Don’t exit your vehicle unless you can quickly get off of the roadway. Make sure that there is no traffic approaching. Get behind a guardrail, jersey barrier or up on an embankment – anything that will get you out of the way of additional out-of-control vehicles. Keep in mind that many highway bridges have gaps in between them. Fatalities happen almost every year from falls. Again, I can’t say it enough, never get out and stand in the road! Your car can withstand the impact from another vehicle much better than your body can. It’s not just dangerous to drive during freezing rain – it can be just as hazardous to walk in it! Injuries from slips and falls are common during freezing rain. When you get out of your vehicle onto an icy surface, move slowly and keep a firm grip with both hands on something sturdy in case your feet slip. Hold firmly onto railings with both hands when walking on sloped surfaces or stairs. Whenever possible, walk on grass instead of sidewalks. Freezing rain is one of the most dangerous types of weather you will encounter. You should treat a forecast for freezing rain the same way you would a tornado warning! If you stay aware of the weather conditions, know the warning signs of icing and most of all, avoid travel when freezing rain is in progress, you’ll stay safe from this deadly hazard.