I’ve always said that I spend the summer getting ready for winter. It is not an extremely exciting practice, but it works pretty well for me. For those folks who do not share this philosophy, this column is for you. I also have some common sense when it comes to approaching winter that I wish to share. I suspect that to most of my readers, we will be covering frozen ground they’ve already seen, but maybe it will be a refresher or they can show it to their kids or visiting relatives from warmer climates.
First off, get yourself some shovels; I have a shovel in every building. Grain shovels are perfect for snow removal and can be purchased for less than lunch at an auction. Shovel your sidewalk immediately after a snowstorm before foot traffic packs it down into ice. This effort may save you injury or one of those notes that says the post office will no longer deliver to your residence. Shovel your driveway; a driveway that is snow covered is slippery and you may hit your garage door or slide into traffic on your way to work. It’s also much easier to avoid frozen brakes when you do not park axle-deep in snow.
Safe winter driving should be a complete separate column but I’ll keep it brief. First off, be patient when you drive in the snow. Start early and drive slower than you think you must. If you feel comfortable with your speed then maintain it, don’t try to go faster. When following another vehicle, make sure you have one second of space for every ten miles of speed. When a vehicle in front of you passes a landmark (like a traffic sign,) start counting one thousand-one, one-thousand two then stop when you pass that same landmark. Do the math and adjust accordingly.
I drove several rear wheel-drive vehicles before I could afford a front wheel-drive back in 1990. I was amazed how much better it drove in the snow and ice. The weight of the engine and transmission over the driven axle made it’s traction far superior to cars or pick-ups with rear wheel-drive. Front wheel drive vehicles rarely lose traction, but when they do, they do not fishtail like rear wheel-drive pick-ups and suv’s. I get such a kick out of people who feel so “safe” in their suv. Unless they have an “all wheel-drive” vehicle they have much less traction than I do in my old Chevrolet Lumina. They could lock their vehicle into four wheel-drive, but a winter of driving on asphalt may ruin a vehicle’s drive train when driven in this manner. I guess one benefit of driving a monster suv in winter is that when you do lose traction and drive into my lane, you will survive the crash because of your larger vehicle. Also if you end up in a ditch, the suv is large enough that you can live comfortably in it until someone comes along with front wheel-drive to take you somewhere safe.
Let’s talk about the weather, it’s usually the safe topic on a first date, however I find it fairly interesting. Before you hop into your suv to go shopping, you should check the weather. I rely on forecasts on our local radio station; they use National Weather service (www.weather.gov) forecasts which, for my money, are the best. I find advisories on traffic somewhat worthless as they don’t take driver ability into account. I rely on my own common sense, logic and past experience to make my driving decisions. Those looking for permission to drive in weather they have no business being a part of won’t like what they hear, however they can check road conditions from their cell phone at 511 (not while you’re driving) or www.511mn.org.
Finally, don’t fear the weather, being cold is uncomfortable but it is not injury. It is simply an indication from your body to be careful and put on another layer of clothing or leave the flip-flops for next summer. I am not impressed with the new presentation of weather forecasts on two of our local television channels. The forecasts on these stations used to be delivered accurately and fairly but after some staff changes they have become quite sensationalized. These broadcasts seems like “the National Enquirer” version of the weather. The fear they create cloud the fact that winter is a beautiful season and limits or activities only so that we may have time to pause, think and enjoy our lives.
The writer, Anton Chehkov, once said, “people don’t know whether it’s winter or summer when they are happy.” It is winter; be safe, enjoy the outdoors, enjoy the days you stay inside but most of all, be happy.