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                   Friday, February 1, 2008 - 1:38PM

Black ice abounds in the mountains

By DAN ROBINSON
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I ended up staying in the Beckley area last night, which from surface observations probably received some of the higher icing totals than anywhere in the region. Lewisburg never dropped below freezing, but parts of the Beckley area remained between 29F-32F for the entire night. The result was one of the most treacherous 'black ice' storm events I've ever experienced, despite the actual ice storm being a very minor event.

When I arrived in Beckley around midnight, temps were already at 30F with freezing rain in progress. The salt trucks were out in full force, which kept most of the bridges clear. Bridges on some of the less-traveled roads were untreated, however - and they were already coated:

Video clip

I continued up to the Grandview area to check on the condition of some of the overpasses along I-64. The temperatures in Beckley had just dropped below freezing after being in the upper 30s all day, so I only expected the bridges to be icy - I was wrong. The dashcam shows what happened as soon as I drove onto the sharply-curving exit ramp off of the interstate at Grandview Road:

Video clip

That is the closest I've come to crashing in my 5 years of covering winter storms. Watch the video again - in freezing rain, you really can't tell which parts of the road are ice-covered and which are wet. The rough gravel on the shoulder is what allowed my tire to grab and prevent me from going into the ditch (and taking out several reflector posts in the process). The entire area around the Grandview/Shady Spring exit was glazed with a layer of ice - including all of the roads. I nearly got stuck while trying to turn around on a side road, parts of which had the car beginning to go sideways on even the slightest banked curve. There is nearly NO traction on this type of ice - and it was nearly impossible to walk on. Although I could hear the ice on trees crackling in the wind, the accumulations were not even close to causing a power outage/vegetation damage issue.

After shooting video for a couple of hours at this location and others nearby, I called it a night just before dawn. By 6AM, the temps were rising above freezing, which was putting an end to the event as the 1/8" layer of ice on my antenna and wipers was beginning to fall off. Despite the treacherous roads, I only saw one car that had slid off into a ditch on I-64 near Grandview - a testament to people in these mountain areas who are used to these type of conditions.

Photos: This icy bridge near Mabscott was an excellent illustration of 'black ice'. Unlike ice associated with snowfall, ice from freezing rain looks exactly like the wet roads adjacent to it. As you saw from my near-miss above, it is nearly impossible to visually tell where the ice begins - making this type of scenario the most dangerous to drivers.

Under a light source like a streetlight or car headlight, the ice visually appears exactly as reflective as wet pavement - which is where the 'black ice' term comes from:

The Portabrace cover on my camera, glazed with ice after 20 minutes of shooting in freezing rain:

Ice on the car's roof rail:

Small icicles on highway signs:

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