The words were screaming out of the radio and TV broadcasts. E-mail warnings from a weather subscription service started coming Wednesday afternoon. Depending on whom you listened to and when, anywhere from 1 to 12 inches of snow were expected beginning Thursday afternoon and ending Friday afternoon.
I don't usually pay attention to the broadcasts. I know I'm not alone because I heard many comments from real live people that the last few storm predictions had turned out to be nothing. They were skeptical that anything would materialize this time, either.
When the weather warning e-mail messages start to come, I usually tune in at least a little. It really did look like we were going to get some wintry weather this time. Late in the morning Thursday, the heavy flakes began to fall. They tapered off some in the early evening, though, and people grew skeptical again.
Sensible Minnesotans, though, still tend to err on the side of caution. Driving trips were postponed. Schedules were rearranged. Just in case.
I arranged to work at home Friday to avoid driving in the seemingly inevitable bad weather. Instead I planned to venture out to Crosslake and to Walker Saturday. Tom cranked up the snow blower around 6:30 a.m. Friday and spent a good part of the morning clearing the driveway. The snow and the wind picked up in the afternoon and evening, continuing into Saturday morning.
Another couple of hours with the snow blower Saturday morning and I hit the road -- crawling. Our county road had been plowed, and the highway was clear on only one side. As I drove the narrow, cleared path, I listened to the long list of cancellations on the radio and was thankful that I was one of the few idiots on the road.
Then in near white-out conditions, those idiots began to come into view.
Chapter 5 of the Minnesota Driver's Manual, "Adjusting to Driving Conditions," says "you must have your headlights on from sunset until sunrise, in rain, snow, hail, sleet or fog, and when you cannot see the road ahead clearly for a distance of at least 500 feet."
Let me simplify -- "you must have your headlights on ... in snow ..."
I met car after car with no headlights on. Perhaps the drivers thought, "I can see the road OK. I don't need my headlights on." To them I say, it's not just about seeing, but also being seen. When 45 mile per hour gusts are whipping the snow across the road, open fields and lakes, lowering visibility to next-to-nothing, headlights go a long way in making sure a vehicle is seen while there's still time to avoid a head-on collision.
In a friendly perhaps-you-forgot manner, I flipped my headlights off and on in reminder. A couple of drivers responded immediately and politely by turning their own lights on. Other drivers were perhaps too engrossed in trying to navigate the disappearing road. Their headlights remained dark and lifeless.
The same chapter of the driver's manual further specifies in winter driving, "before driving, remove snow and ice from the vehicle, especially the hood and windows."
At the bank drive-through I patiently sat in line behind a pick-up truck. While I waited, I got a good look at the back of the truck -- at least I think it was a truck, because all I had to go on was the general shape and size.
The entire back of the vehicle was camouflaged in sticky snow. Not one inch of window, tailgate, license plate or brake lights was visible. Now I realize the snow was still covering everything in its path and the wind was creating drifts. I wanted to give the driver the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he or she cleared the vehicle off and it became covered again while driving. But I could still see out the back window of my small station wagon, and most of the other cars on the road still had parts of them peeking through their wintry white coats. No, I suspect this driver swiped the windshield a couple of times with the brush before getting in and driving away.
Granted, the manual said, "especially the hood and windows." The windows primarily so the driver can see out, and the hood so snow doesn't blow up and re-cover the windows. However, the rear window is a window, too. And I've got to believe it's just as important to clear head and taillights so other drivers can see you coming or going -- before it's too late.
From TV, radio and first-hand accounts, I heard reports of spin-outs, vehicles in ditches and even a fatal accident. Certainly causes included vehicles following too closely and moving too fast. That happens even in the best of weather and multiplies when driving conditions worsen. But I wonder how many of those troubled vehicles had drivers who couldn't be bothered with something as simple as turning on headlights or brushing off all of the snow.
(Diane McCormack is a correspondent for The Brainerd Dispatch and a freelance writer living in north central Minnesota. Send comments or feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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