Watch for slush; don't rush: Winter weather can affect local commute

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- As the weather changes and snow and ice begin to dress the roads, drivers need to watch for slush and not rush while traveling to, from and on the Academy.

The Academy has personnel who live anywhere from south Colorado Springs, east near Powers Boulevard and north by Monument and Castle Rock, said Lt. Col. Steve Harmon, the Academy's director of safety.

"All of these areas could be experiencing vastly different weather," Harmon said. "We at the safety office don't think safety ends once you pass the gates. We want our people to be safe on their drive to and from work, or wherever they are."

Drivers should be most careful on bridges and overpasses because they tend to accumulate ice quicker than normal road surfaces, said Staff Sgt. Jacob Heine, the 10th Security Forces Squadron NCO in charge of police services.

"The bridge on Stadium Drive and the Tri Bridge on Academy Drive, near the Thunderbird overlook, are two examples," Heine said. "Try to avoid sudden braking, turning or acceleration on those areas. Also, try to avoid back roads because these roads see less traffic and are more likely to have a larger accumulation of snow."

Low car fluid and tire pressure are two of the most common, avoidable issues that leave people stranded, Heine said.

"Most people don't know that once the temperature drops below 45 degrees, the average tire's rubber compound will become hard and lose its ability to maintain proper traction," Heine said. "To prevent this issue, I recommend purchasing all-weather or snow tires."

If you have a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, weight the back end of your vehicle with sandbags to increase the downward pressure on your tires, Heine said.

"This will create better traction," Heine said. "If you have an all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive vehicle, you may be able to accelerate faster than most, but your ability to turn and stop is the same as everyone else. You still need to drive with extreme caution."

Harmon said black ice is often a treacherous, unpredictable risk for drivers during the cold months.

"Roads may appear to be clear and dry but in fact, they have patches of clear ice," Harmon said. "The key to managing this threat is understanding conditions where it may be present, such as in the shade or on a bridge, since cool air circulates under them. As these conditions present themselves, adjust your driving habits accordingly and this, coupled with high quality winter tires is your best defense."

Harmon said to always keep an emergency kit in your vehicle. The kit should include a blanket, warm clothes, first aid kit, ice scraper, shovel, tool kit, tire chains, jumper cables, a spare tire and flashlight with new batteries.

"Most people don't carry one, and the possibility of getting stranded in the winter increases," Harmon said. "Also, have some traction material in case you get stuck such as kitty litter, it works great."

The Academy typically receives more precipitation than areas such as downtown Colorado Springs due to higher elevation, Harmon said.

"The winds and visibility right up against the mountains are often much worse," Harmon said. "Give yourself a lot more room and don't try to accelerate or brake fast."

Breakdowns happen year-around, but it makes for a more dangerous situation in freezing temperatures and snowfall, Heine said.

"During snowfall, traffic slows and accidents increase," Heine said. "Take your time and ensure you are giving yourself an adequate amount of time for travel. I suggest leaving 15-20 minutes earlier."

To report an on-base accident or emergency, call Security Forces at 333-2000 or 911. For information on the weather, roads and other conditions, call 333-6249.

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