10 tips for driving in extreme weather

From rain and fog to ice and snow, learn how to stay safe on the road this winter.

Winter driving

Shelley Nasby knows a thing or two about driving in Oregon’s unpredictable winter weather. 

As a senior safety consultant based in North Bend, she logs more than 30,000 miles a year, traveling the coast from Florence to Brookings and crossing the Coast Range to visit her cabin in Southern Oregon. 

With all that time behind the wheel, Nasby has seen it all — from driving rain and pea-soup fog to black ice and blinding snow. Following last summer’s devastating wildfires and recent “bomb cyclone,” forecasters say we now have another winter driving hazard to worry about: flash floods and debris flows.

Although Nasby has never had a serious weather-related accident, shes encountered plenty of drivers who werent so lucky. Her best advice: Be prepared and take it slow.

Here are 10 tips:

  1. Check your tires. Make sure they’re properly inflated and have plenty of treadIf necessary, install all-weather or snow tires. “I change over as soon as the snow flies,” Nasby says. Also, make sure you have the right tools to change a tire, if necessary. 
  2. Buy decent snow chains—and practice putting them on. “It’s not that big a deal,” Nasby insists, “though you do have to get down on your hands and knees in the cold and wet.” She recommends having warm gloves and a kneeling pad handy.
  3. Have a flashlight with batteries that work. This is critical if you need to put on chains in the dark. Learn how to build your car’s emergency kit.
  4. Replace worn wiper blades. While ice and snow may cause more worry, the vast majority of weather-related crashes occur on wet pavement or during rainstorms. Inspect your blades every six months and replace them at least once a year. Replace windshield fluid with de-icing or water-beading formulas.
  5. Test your car’s battery. AAA recommends inspecting your battery at every oil change and testing it annually after three years.
  6. Check weather and road conditions before you leave. [link to https://tripcheck.com] Monitor safety advisories. If in doubt, stay home.
  7. Know your car’s safety features, such as antilock brakes and electronic stability control, and prepare for how to respond in a skid. “Don’t assume four-wheel or all-wheel-drive vehicles will handle better on ice,” Nasby says. Also, take extra care when rain starts, as oils can make roads slicker.
  8. Don’t drive (or walk) through flood waters. Twelve inches of moving water can sweep away your vehicle; six inches can knock you off your feet. Remember: “Turn around. Dont drown.”
  9. Take your time. Accelerate and decelerate slowly and allow plenty of following distance. A rule of thumb is to add one second for each additional hazard, such as heavy rain, ice or snow, low visibility, or slow-moving vehicles. 
  10. Pull over safely if conditions deteriorate. Find a spot as far from traffic as possible; avoid the shoulder of the road. Turn on your hazard lights. A good sign that it’s time to pull over is when your windshield wipers can’t keep up with the rain. Or when long-haulers are exiting the ice, says Nasby, who once waited two and a half hours for a sand truck to show up before attempting to cross the Willamette Pass. “Then I just followed the big rigs out.”

For more tips on driving in extreme weather, including what to do in an emergency, see our fact page.  

Find tips for truckers here.