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  • Writer's pictureGarrett Power

Know Snow!

Motorists Heading to Arizona’s High Country Should Leave Prepared

ADOT has nearly 200 snowplows and 400 certified drivers stationed around the state to address snow and ice. But as Christmas weekend showed, especially on Interstate 40 from Flagstaff west to Ash Fork and on Interstate 17 south of Flagstaff, a snowstorm can be so intense that travel becomes unsafe quickly.

This is why drivers should monitor conditions before leaving and be prepared to delay travel until snowplows can do their work. A few inches of snow fell per hour at the height of last weekend’s storm, causing crashes and slide-offs and resulting in long closures because of the time required to get vehicles cleared and lanes open again. Because snowstorms can result in sudden closures sometimes lasting for hours, ADOT offers tips at

that include packing an emergency kit with blankets, warm clothing, snacks and water, having a charged cellphone and keeping your gas tank half to three-quarters full at all times. But the safest option when snow is falling is not being on road unless it's absolutely necessary.

Before You Travel

Make sure your vehicle is in good working condition by paying special attention to the battery, ignition and exhaust systems, thermostat, defroster, heater and brakes. Take these precautions as well:

  • Use snow tires, chains or studded tires as recommended, required or both on snowy, icy roads. Studded tires are permitted on Arizona highways from Oct. 1 to May 1.

  • Make sure the antifreeze in your radiator can handle freezing temperatures.

  • Install new windshield wiper blades and solvent.

  • Ensure your headlights, taillights, brake lights and turn signals work well and can be seen if visibility is low.

  • Change your motor oil to a winter grade.

Electric or Hybrid Vehicles

Your battery must be in optimal condition. If you need to replace it, do so before you head into cold, snowy weather. If your battery doesn't need to be replaced:

  • be sure it has sufficient voltage.

  • ask a mechanic to inspect the charging system and belts.

  • be sure the battery connection cables are tight.

If the electric vehicle has a thermal heating pack for the batteries, keep the vehicle plugged in when not in use. If it has a preheat function to warm the interior, set it to warm the passenger compartment before you unplug it in the morning. Always make sure your tank has fresh gasoline.

Before You Leave

You and your vehicle must be prepared for driving in wintry conditions, including snow, ice and freezing temperatures.

  • Plan your travel route in advance.

  • Notify someone of your route, destination and projected arrival time.

  • Fill your fuel tank and try to keep it at three-quarters full. Running out of gas — especially in a remote location — is extremely dangerous during winter conditions.

Must-Haves for Every Vehicle in Winter

Never drive into snowy, icy or cold conditions without a fully-charged cell phone, drinking water and winter coats, warm blankets or both. Consider keeping these items available too:

  • Gloves, scarves, caps and extra socks

  • Necessary prescribed medication(s) and pain relievers

  • A first-aid kit

  • A flashlight with extra batteries

  • An ice scraper

  • A small bag of sand (or kitty litter) for wheel traction

  • A small folding shovel for snow removal

  • A travel tool kit and battery cables

  • Safety flares

  • Plastic bags or containers for sanitation

  • Healthy snacks

  • A road map

On the Road - Respect the Plow!

  • Never pass a snowplow! Slow down and be patient.

  • Stay at least four car lengths behind snowplows and equipment. Plowed snow can create a cloud that reduces visibility, and spreaders on trucks throw salt or sand that can damage your vehicle.

  • Watch for snowplows operating in multiple travel lanes or in tandem.

  • If approaching an oncoming snowplow, slow down and give the plow extra room

An innovative snowplow, recently added to the Arizona Department of Transportation fleet, is allowing the agency to remove snow and ice more efficiently by having one driver clear the width of two lanes. Check out this video from ADOT:

In addition to watching National Weather Service forecasts for the area where you're planning to travel, be sure to check or call 511 for the latest road conditions. ADOT's Twitter account (@ArizonaDOT) is a good source of information and interaction.

Travelers also should resist the temptation to stop on highway shoulders to play in the snow, in part because plows throw snow and ice far from the roadway. In addition, other drivers may be distracted by your vehicle and first responders may need to use the shoulder. Exit highways and park in designated areas.

Drive Safe and Know Snow!

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