Black Ice Creates Hazardous Driving Conditions in North and South Carolina and Georgia—How to Stay Safe in Icy Conditions

North and South Carolina and Georgia are waking up to up to three inches of snow this morning, having an impact on the morning commute.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), while the Carolinas will see the end of snow and sleep this morning, portions of the states will wake up with a couple inches of snow as an area of low pressure moves rapidly out into the Atlantic. Temperatures, which are forecast below average for the time of year, will drop down to or just below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (F), creating patchy black ice.

In a special weather statement, NWS said that motorists will face roadways that may have partially iced over, with untreated wet roadways, walkways, bridges and overpasses being more susceptible to hazardous conditions. This will impact the morning commute to work and school, according to the weather service.

The affected areas in North Carolina include:

  • Coastal New Hanover
  • Coastal Brunswick
  • Marlboro
  • Darlington
  • Dillon
  • Florence
  • Marion
  • Williamsburg
  • Coastal Horry
  • Inland Georgetown
  • Coastal Georgetown
  • Central Horry
  • Northern Horry

In South Carolina, residents in the following areas or those planning to travel need to be aware of icy conditions:

  • Avery
  • Madison
  • Yancey
  • Mitchell
  • Swain
  • Haywood
  • Buncombe
  • Graham
  • Northern Jackson
  • Macon
  • Southern Jackson
  • Transylvania
  • Henderson
  • Caldwell Mountains
  • Burke Mountains
  • McDowell Mountains
  • Rutherford Mountains
  • Polk Mountains

Across the mountains, NWS has warned that any water running off or left standing from the rain and light snow overnight will freeze, particularly affecting secondary roads and residential streets. Temperatures are expected to climb back above freezing around noon today, according to NWS, but will probably stay below freezing all day above 3,500 feet.

Issued for Friday, February 21, 2020, 12 Z. The Carolinas will wake up to inches of snow and icy conditions. NOAA

Those in Georgia also need to be on the look out for black ice. According to NWS, some of the higher elevations of northeast Georgia saw accumulating snow sticking to roadways, creating hazardous driving conditions. For other areas where roadways are just wet, winds will aid in drying roads but any residual water on area roadways could result in black ice. Temperatures are expected to rise above freezing after 10:00 a.m. local time for most areas.

The NWS also advises that some light snow is possible overnight in the Atlanta metro due to cold air rushing over the warmer Lake Lanier. However, there is a low chance of this occurring and any accumulations if at all would be very light.

What is black ice?

Even the smallest patch of ice can cause commotion on America's roads, but it can also disrupt communications and power for days due to ice bringing down trees and toppling utility poles.

One main issue with freezing temperatures is that of black ice. This type of winter weather is a deadly driving hazard defined as "patchy ice on roadways or other transportation surfaces that cannot easily be seen."

The main cause of black ice is snow melts on untreated roads over the course of a night with freezing temperatures.

It is often clear (not white) with the black road surface visible underneath. It is most prevalent during the early morning hours, especially after snowmelt on the roadways has a chance to refreeze overnight when the temperature drops below freezing, according to NWS.

How to stay safe during icy conditions

Icy conditions have proven over the years to be fatal for many American drivers. According to the USDOT Federal Highway Administration, there were 156,164 crashes between 2007 and 2016 due to icy pavements, causing 521 fatalities.

According to IcyRoadSafety.org, there are several things drivers can do to stay safe when traveling during periods of hazardous winter weather:

  • Reduce speed—drivers should never be travelling faster than 45 miles per hour in any vehicle when roads are icy, including highways. In black ice conditions, drivers can slip off the road at 10 miles per hour or less.
  • Avoid icy roads—to guarantee avoiding an accident on an icy road, stay off them.
  • Wear your seat belt—according to IcyRoadSafety.org, an alarming number of road ice fatalities occur with minor accidents where the vehicle occupants were not wearing seat belts.
  • Don't slam the brakes—brake application is a common trigger of slides that result in a loss of vehicle control, according to IcyRoadSafety.org. Worth noting that antilock brakes (ABS) do not work well on ice and snow.
  • Turn into a slide—If a driver is caught off guard and begins sliding, they need to turn their wheels in the direction that the rear of the car is sliding. If a driver overcorrects the steering and causes the car to slide in the other direction, they need to turn the wheels in the opposite direction.
  • Avoid hills or other dangerous roads during icy conditions—steep inclines, ice and cars do not mix so don't attempt tackling higher elevations in winter weather.

For the latest traffic updates in your state, dial 5-1-1 or visit the state's department of transportation for real-time map updates on adverse weather.