Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
Weather, photography and the open roadClick for an important message
Storm Highway by Dan RobinsonClick for an important message
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                   Monday, February 25, 2008 - 5:32PM

Ice: Brick/cobblestone streets = bridges and overpasses

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I made an interesting discovery last Friday night: during snow or freezing rain, brick and stone paved streets will begin accumulating ice at about the same time that bridges and overpasses do. Apparently the gaps between the bricks allow the cold air to filter down and even underneath the road surface, accellerating the cooling of the road surface faster than asphalt or concrete - the exact cause of the icy bridge hazard. On Friday in Washington, PA, the brick streets around town were completely glazed over very early in the evening, with all other roads clear - which was catching drivers and pedestrians alike off guard. Many of the brick streets in the region are on steep hills, which makes them as dangerous as an iced-over bridge in that there is an element of surprise for drivers who start down them. Once a car drives onto one of these hills, they aren't going to be stopping unless they hit something or slide all the way to the bottom. Even walking across one of these streets (as I'm trying to do on Morgan Avenue in the above image) during freezing rain is nearly impossible. Maybe they need to start putting up signs that warn 'street may be icy'. Pittsburgh is a hilly region, and many of these streets are just as much of an accident hotspot as any bridge is. So in a nutshell, brick streets are another focal point to add to my winter coverage subjects.

My main goal this winter with the Oakwood/Fort Hill bridge was to gather a few more high-definition spinout/crash clips for my archive, which currently is one of the few video footage subjects left that is still worth storm chasing in this 'CJ' (citizen journalism) era. It's a difficult subject to document that requires a good amount of forecasting, a lot of standing out in the cold for hours, and a lot of just being in the right place at the right time. So catching the Pennsylvania icy road episode made up for missing the January 22 ice event in Charleston/Raleigh, in that this one was more or less handed to me without any forecasting, traveling or 'weather monitoring' effort on my part. In other words, I missed one I'd been trying hard to get, and caught one that I wasn't. Funny how with the weather, this happens from time to time - you can try and try for something that just keeps eluding you, then you can stop trying and get a story just fall into your lap out of nowhere. Sometimes that's how the Lord provides.

As compelling and exciting as the icy road video is, it's not something I particularly enjoy shooting. It is hard work with little guarantee of success, it involves great discomfort being out in the cold, it requires a great deal of daily 'babysitting' of the weather patterns, and most of all I am always afraid I'm going to witness someone getting hurt (so far I haven't, thankfully). I am looking forward to spring largely in part because I'll be able to go out of town or just go to bed at night and not worry about a surprise snowfall happening. Icy road season here goes into mid-April and really drops off by mid-March, so I don't have much longer before I can start taking a break.

Yet another barrage of ice/snow events is headed our way on Tuesday/Wednesday and again on Thursday night, exemplifying how this winter has required more effort to cover than I'd anticipated. We've had at least three times the number of snowfall events this season as we did last year - none of them major storms, but nearly all enough to cause road problems and therefore demand my attention. Looking at the long range forecasts, I don't see any big sign that winter will start to lose its grip for at least another 2 weeks.

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