With freezing temperatures comes drivers’ biggest worry, black ice

Jan 18, 2024, 6:00 AM | Updated: 6:03 am

black ice...

A gritting vehicle from the winter road clearance service is on the highway clearing ice. (Photo: Jason Tschepljakow/Getty Images)

(Photo: Jason Tschepljakow/Getty Images)

Residents throughout the Puget Sound region and beyond will have to be wary of one of the most dangerous hazards on roads this time of year — black ice.

Once temperatures fall below 32 degrees Fahrenheit combined with an earlier rain or snowfall, whatever loitering liquid remaining on the roads refreezes, creating the hard-to-see ice. Roads adorned with black ice may look normal or just damp, especially from the driver’s seat inside a car. It’s especially prevalent in the early morning hours when snowmelt has refrozen on surfaces overnight.

More on Seattle’s freezing weather: Residents skate on Lake Washington during frigid temps

According to the U.S. Forest Service, black ice tends to form in places that don’t get a lot of sunshine, such as tunnels, tree-lined routes with heavy canopy or less-traveled roads. Officials have stated that the best way to spot it is to notice any changes in the sheen of a roadway, as black ice tends to appear glossy. Still, officials claim the best way to be safe from the near-invisible ice is to avoid driving during winter storms or freezing winter weather.

“Black ice forms readily on bridges, overpasses and the road beneath overpasses,” the U.S. Forest Service wrote in a guide for navigating black ice. “This is because the cold air is able to cool both the top and under the bridge or overpass, bringing about faster freezing.”

More on winter in Seattle: Want to eliminate noise pollution? Let it snow

Road and travel officials also advise drivers to keep their windshields clear of ice, snow, dirt and any other forms of debris to help see the roads as clear as possible.

“To get snow and ice off the windshield of your car, you might be tempted to turn on your windshield wipers,” the U.S. Forest Service wrote. “It might seem like the wipers and the washer fluid will work, but they don’t. In fact, if you use your windshield wipers to get ice off the windshield, you could ruin them. Use an ice scraper to scrape the ice from the windshield of your car before starting the vehicle.”


Having headlights turned on earlier, checking tire tread and pressure, and never using cruise control while driving in icy conditions all help avoid preventable accidents.

According to WSP, if a driver hits a spot of ice on the road, the best advice is to not hit the brakes and keep the steering wheel straight.

“Lift your feet off the accelerator completely and keep your steering wheel fixed in the position it’s in,” the U.S. Forest Service continued. “Slowing down will give you more control and prevent needless damage.”

More on Western WA’s stretch of freezing weather: Snow, ice close schools, mess with morning commute

The dangers with black ice come once a driver loses control of their vehicle and overcorrects once sliding over the frozen road. Once a car gets stuck on black ice, the vehicle has a tendency to swerve. If this occurs, officials advise to turn the steering wheel, gently, in the same direction. Overcorrecting and turning the wheel in the opposite direction can cause a spin out.

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With freezing temperatures comes drivers’ biggest worry, black ice