Authorities urge motorists to use caution driving in Southern Utah winter storm

Cedar City snow plow driver pulls over to help another driver get unstuck at 200 N. Main Street, Cedar City, Utah, Dec. 14, 2015 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News

IRON COUNTY – A winter storm is pushing its way through Utah, causing hazardous road conditions as it moves across Iron County, and authorities are urging motorists to use caution while driving.

The storm, dubbed “Winter Storm Echo” by the National Weather Service, is expected to effect Iron County through Monday night, NWS meteorologist Christine Kruse said.

“The storm will likely continue through today and part of tonight and then begin to dissipate,” Kruse said.

As of 10:30 a.m., areas of Iron County had already received around 7 inches of snow through the night with 2-4 more inches expected by Tuesday.

Iron County is also likely to see more major storms this season as El Nino unfolds in the Equatorial Pacific, increasing the chances of higher-than-average amounts of precipitation and snow in Southern Utah, Kruse said.

“We can’t always predict what weather will do for sure but it looks like this year, Southern Utah is going to get above normal precipitation and for Iron County that means more snow,” she said.

The roads throughout the county and on Interstate 15 are currently being reported by local law enforcement as “snowy and slick.”

The Cedar City Police Department issued the following statement Monday afternoon:

The Cedar City, State Road and Iron County snow plow crews have been working feverishly to clear the roads but the snow keeps coming! Please, if you don’t absolutley have to be out, stay home tonight! The temperatures are dropping and that will only make the roads more dangerous. Drive safely, slow down and if you have to be out, allow yourself extra time to get to your destination.

Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower also advised residents to slow down when driving and, if possible, stay home.

“If you don’t have to drive – don’t,” Gower said. “There have already been more than a dozen vehicles reported to have slid off the roads. No major personal injuries, but we are advising residents to please avoid driving if possible.”

Gower also advised motorists to make sure they are dressed appropriately for the weather when they leave their homes.

“You have no idea how many people I see go out thinking they’re just going to run down to Maverick and they’re in shorts and flip-flops,” he said, “and they end up getting in a wreck or sliding off the road and they’re not dressed for winter weather.”

Additionally, drivers should take blankets, water, a couple of snacks, an emergency kit and a cellphone, even if it only has 911 service available. He also suggested drivers fill up their gas tanks at least halfway so, if necessary, they can run their vehicles to stay warm.

“If someone gets stuck, they can run their vehicle to stay warm, but they shouldn’t do it nonstop – just intermittently,” Gower said. “And make sure your tailpipe is cleared from snow so the exhaust or gas doesn’t come back into the vehicle.”

Motorists are also being advised to slow down and drive according to the conditions.

“Right now, drivers should only be going about 40 mph on the freeway,” Gower said.

Under normal circumstances, motorists can call the Utah Department of Transportation’s hotline at 1-866-511-(Utah) or 511 and get road conditions. However, UDOT’s Region Communication Manager, Kevin Kitchen, said the phone service has been down most of the day and it unknown when it will be fixed.

For now, motorists can access information on road conditions by going to UDOT’s website. There is also a mobile app available that motorists can download with up-to-date information.

“I know it’s not ideal for single-drivers who will have to pull over to get the information, but right now, we don’t know why the phone line is not available and when it will be,” Kitchen said, “and so these are other options motorists have available to them.”

AAA tips for more information on driving in winter weather 

Prepare Your Vehicle for Use in Ice and Snow
Before winter conditions hit, it’s important to prepare your car for harsh winter weather. AAA’s Winter Car Care Checklist can help determine a vehicle’s winter maintenance needs. Many of the items on the list can be inspected by a car owner in less than an hour, but others should be performed by a certified technician. Follow the AAA Winter Car Care Checklist.

Drive Distraction Free
It is also important when driving in winter conditions to drive distraction-free and in the right frame of mind. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that looking away from the road for just two seconds doubles your risk of being in a crash.

Do Not Use Cruise Control and Avoid Tailgating
Normal following distances of three to four seconds for dry pavement should be increased to eight to 10 seconds when driving on icy, slippery surfaces. This extra time will allow for extra braking distance should a sudden stop become necessary. If driving on a four-lane highway, stay in the clearest lane; avoid changing lanes and driving over built-up snow. Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery (wet, ice, snow, sand) surface; not avoiding the use of using cruise control will allow you to respond instantly when you lift your foot off the accelerator.

Know When to Brake and When to Steer
Some driving situations require abrupt action to avoid a crash or collision and in winter conditions the decision to steer or brake can have very different outcomes. When travelling over 25 MPH, AAA recommends steering over braking to avoid a collision in wintery conditions, as less distance is required to steer around an object than to brake to a stop. In slick conditions, sudden braking can lead to loss of vehicle control.

However, sometimes steering is not an option. Braking on slippery surfaces requires you to look further head and increased your following and stopping distances. Plan stopping distances as early as possible and always look 20-30 seconds ahead of your vehicle to ensure you have time and space to stop safely. Shaded spots, bridges, overpasses and intersections are areas where ice is likely to form first and will be the most slippery. It is important to adjust your braking habits as road conditions change.

Stay in Control Through a Skid
Even careful drivers can experience skids. When a vehicle begins to skid, it’s important to not panic and follow these basic steps: Continue to look and steer in the direction the car needs to go. Avoid slamming on the brakes as this will further upset the vehicle’s balance and make it harder to control.

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