As most of you are aware by now, early Friday afternoon, in Western Michigan, between Battle Creek, and Kalamazoo, along I-94, there was a MASSIVE vehicle accident.
The latest figures are in excess of 190 vehicles, including cars, tractor-trailers, SUV’s, you name it, except for motorcycles, it was in the motorized melee. Sadly, there was at least one fatality. Most of you have seen the carnage on TV, You-Tube, and various other media outlets. Below are some photos from both accidents:
About 3 hours after that mess had started, there was another huge wreck, involving up to 50 vehicles, this one was along U.S. 23 in Washtenaw County, in Southeastern Michigan. Sadly, there was one life lost in this mayhem as well. This wreck happened about 5 miles south of my home near Ann Arbor. The conditions in BOTH of these huge wrecks were much the same. In this post, I am going to try to explain how, and WHY these accidents came to be, and HOPEFULLY shed some light on what to do if YOU should find yourself in similar circumstances.
Friday in Michigan was very cold, with temperatures running in the single digits above zero. There was also a pretty stiff wind of about 20 MPH blowing due west to east. As the Great Lakes are not totally froze over yet, the conditions on Friday were RIPE for this type of “lake-effect” snow squall activity.
If you are not familiar with lake-effect snow, the following is a brief explanation of what it is, and how it forms. The water in the Lakes, since it is not frozen, is warmer than the air above it. When the wind blows that cold air across the water surface, there is quite a bit of evaporation. As the winds blow across the expanse of the Lakes, the more moisture is lifted up into the cold air. When the air mass reaches land, which is MUCH colder than the water, the snow forms, and is dumped in huge amounts, normally over a well-defined area, depending on wind speed and direction. Below is a picture of how it basically works:
The mass that came over lower Michigan on Friday was rather large, and had a stiff wind pushing it along. Normally, these snows will fall from just onshore, to about 20 miles away from the Lakes. With this particular one, the first wave of it hit about 50 miles from the shore. Right about the area of the huge pile-up. This particular squall reached over 160 miles, which IS unusual. For the eastern part of the state to get this intense squall activity off Lake Michigan tells me the shit was hitting the fan in western Michigan.
This next portion is STRICTLY my opinion. We shall know when the results of the investigations are released. Having been through many of these squalls, in damn near ALL of them, the conditions are pretty much the same. As one is rolling along at the speed limit, which, in this area, is 70 mph for cars, 60 mph for trucks, one minute you are in clear conditions, the NEXT, you are suddenly in a curtain of pure white. And, since everyone reacts to road hazards differently, some will slow down abruptly, some, as much as it pains me, truckers especially will just try to keep rolling along at speed, thinking THEY are MUCH better than the average motorist. The trouble with THAT type of thinking will, and can, get you dead, or you will kill some OTHER poor soul.
To me, it is obvious what happened. The HEAVY traffic in this area, what with I-94 being the main shipping corridor between Detroit, southern Canada, and Chicago, on to points west, travelling along at posted speeds, came upon this squall and the shit hit the fan. The initial reports had an accident in the eastbound lanes, traffic started hitting their brakes on the westbound side, THAT is when all Hell broke loose as cars and trucks, careening along, were either caught off guard, or were oblivious to what was happening around them.
Instead of the vehicles slowing down, MORE of them came piling in to the original wreck, and as visibilty was severely impaired, WAY too many of these drivers, again in my opinion, were simply NOT paying attention to what was going on around them, in a total lack of “situational awareness”.
There is one factor here that puzzles me. These lake effect snow clouds are REALLY dark when one is driving towards them. If there is a clear sky, and some sunlight, these things are visible from about 20 to 50 miles away, depending on the size of the squall. In the conditions that existed in Michigan Friday, these squalls were pretty damn tall, and dark. The one that blew through to the south of my home was as dark as can be. I thought to myself, I’m damn glad I didn’t have to travel on U.S.23 Friday. It is NOT like one cannot see these damned things.
Now I realize not everyone travelling through this area will be familiar with the lake effect phenomena, BUT, those who ARE familiar with it must have simply IGNORED what was about to happen. I can come up with no better explanation as to WHY close to 200 vehicles could get trashed in this.
The one closer to my home, I can kind of understand it, as we don’t often get those intense squalls. BUT, that being said, you WOULD think as people approached these areas, and seen what was going on, a light bulb in their heads would illuminate, and MAYBE ring a bell that they should slow down, at the very least.
With the exception of the loss of lives, and injuries to the victims of these nightmarish accidents, I DO know a group of people who will be somewhat excited about these wrecks. And THAT would be THESE guys:
To wrap this up, whether you are in the West, which gets dust storms, which are WORSE than these snow squalls, or in the snow belt regions, or where fog is a problem, PLEASE take the time to make yourself AWARE of developing conditions in front of you, and take the appropriate measures to keep YOURSELVES out of the horrific mess of these types of accidents. Especially if you are travelling through unfamiliar territory.
CLYDE. Hoping you all will be safe when driving.