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Travel tips for a messy winter weekend

(Photo: PennDOT)

For many of us, staying home all weekend is not an option.

But state officials are already urging motorists to postpone travel if possible as Winter Storm Harper approaches. In fact, Gov. Wolf today signed a state of emergency declaration to allow for increased assistance with storm-related needs.

And a commercial vehicle ban will be in place between noon Saturday and noon Sunday on all interstates and the Turnpike, except for Interstate 95 in southeastern Pennsylvania. Speed limits will be restricted to 45 mph as the storm progresses.

The forecast for our area is less ominous than for most of the state, although New Hope straddles a line right between snowy and rainy conditions. Up to five inches of snow could accumulate by Saturday night, followed by more snow, sleet and rain Sunday. Then a steep temperature drop could lead to a hard freeze of slush and standing water. Bitterly cold air will make clearing snow and ice very difficult, and the strong winds forecast for late Sunday could cause power outages.

Local weather forecast from National Weather Service

If you must drive, AAA is reminding motorists to take time to prepare their vehicles for winter weather. The most common problems that arise this time of year involve dead batteries or improperly inflated tires, both of which can be aggravated by a sudden cold snap, they advise.

Here’s some more tips from AAA:


  • The average car battery lasts 3-5 years.
  • Even at 32 degrees, a battery is 35 percent weaker.
  • At zero degrees, a car’s battery loses about 60 percent of its strength, yet the engine needs about twice as much power to start.
  • A battery’s life can be drained faster if devices are plugged into cars (cell phone chargers, upgraded audio and GPS devices)


  • AAA also recommends checking tire pressure since tires need more air when it is cold.
  • Proper cold weather tire pressure can be found in the vehicle manual or on a sticker inside the driver’s door, not on the tire itself.

Winter Vehicle Emergency Kit

Motorists are advised to pack a winter emergency kit now to stow in the trunk of their vehicle to have immediately available should the need arise.

  • Emergency kit items to include – deicer, shovel, ice scraper, sand or kitty litter (for traction)
  • Pack a blanket, extra gloves and hat, heavy coat – if you’re stuck on the road for an extended period of time you’ll need to stay warm, especially if your vehicle is not running
  • Pack snacks, beverages, etc. – have them packed by the door to take in the morning (so they don’t freeze in the car overnight)
  • Charge your cell phone – have a backup power source for the car in case you’re stuck for a while
  • Make sure your windshield wipers and lights (headlights, taillights, turn signals) are working properly – make sure you can see and can be seen
  • Keep a FULL tank of gas

Winter Weather Driving

The first snow of the season always comes with a learning curve for drivers who forget how to go in ice and snow.  If you have to be out on the roads, like many holiday shoppers will, remember to drive with caution and give road crews plenty of room to do their job safely.  

  • Remove all snow from vehicle, including roof, hood, and trunk. While driving, snow can blow off a car onto the windshield of a nearby vehicle, temporary blinding that driver’s vision. (PA law requires motorists to clean their cars off completely so snow and ice do not dislodge while driving).
  • Slow down. Adjust your speed to the road conditions and leave yourself ample room to stop. Allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you. Accelerate, turn and brake gradually.
  • Do not tailgate. Normal following distances of three to four seconds on dry pavement should be a minimum of five to six seconds when driving on slippery surfaces. The extra time will provide additional braking room should a sudden stop become necessary.
  • Never use cruise control on slippery roads, as you lose the ability to transfer more weight to the front tire by simply lifting off the accelerator. A driver should always be in full control of their vehicle during poor road conditions.
  • Avoid unnecessary lane changes. This increases the chances of hitting a patch of ice between lanes that could cause loss of vehicle traction.
  • Minimize the need to brake on ice. If you’re approaching a stop sign, traffic light or other area where ice often forms, brake early on clear pavement to reduce speed. Vehicle control is much more difficult when braking on ice-covered roadways.

Drivers should also be extra cautious around operating snow-removal equipment, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation advised. When encountering a plow truck, drivers should:

  • Stay at least six car lengths behind an operating plow truck and remember that the main plow is wider than the truck.
  • Be alert since plow trucks generally travel much more slowly than other traffic.
  • When a plow truck is traveling toward you, move as far away from the center of the road as is safely possible, and remember that snow can obscure the actual snow plow width.
  • Never try to pass or get between several trucks plowing side by side in a “plow train.” The weight of the snow thrown from the plow can quickly cause smaller vehicles to lose control, creating a hazard for nearby vehicles.
  • Never travel next to a plow truck since there are blind spots where the operator can’t see, and they can occasionally be moved sideways when hitting drifts or heavy snowpack.
  • Keep your lights on to help the operator better see your vehicle. Also remember that under Pennsylvania state law, vehicle lights must be on every time a vehicle’s wipers are on due to inclement weather.


About the author

Charlie Sahner

“Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy." - Einstein

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