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Old Posted Nov 21, 2020, 7:42 PM
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Great Canadian Winter Driving Horror Stories

Inspired by the conversation with a Sicilian in another thread.

My wife grew up in Taiwan. One year her sister and a friend came to visit us in Hamilton during Chinese New Year. Which is in January/February.

I got the bright idea of doing a road trip to Montreal and Quebec City. And everything was going perfectly fine on the 401 as we passed Kingston, but like a frog slowly being boiled to death in water that started out tepid, the conditions started to turn, and gradually got worse. It started snowing, and then the snow got heavier.

And heavier. And horizontal. It started covering the entire roadway. For a whole hour the car was quiet as I strained to stay in visual contact with a lone pair of taillights way up ahead. They were the only thing keeping me from going off the road, but I couldn't speed up to get closer because of how much snow I was driving over.

At one point my sister-in-law piped up and asked: So, is this normal for driving in winter in Canada?

Uh, yeah, I said. Nothing to worry about. Meanwhile, I was absolutely terrified and pleading with the gods above that the Cornwall exit would hurry up and appear so that we could get off the damned highway.

It did, and we spent the night at a hotel there before proceeding on to Montreal the next day. But that was absolutely the worst winter driving I've ever experienced, and it was a classic case of tourists in a situation where they don't have a clue that the locals are secretly quaking in their boots!
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Old Posted Nov 21, 2020, 8:00 PM
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A friend of mine (new driver) once stopped her car on the 401 near Milton because she couldn't see for the snow. I recall a moment of panic and shouting at her to get off the highway! Fortunately, we lived to tell the tale.
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Old Posted Nov 21, 2020, 8:01 PM
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I can think of several, and if this thread has any traction (pun intended), I will relate them individually.

Most of my adventures are long since past, related to driving back and forth from Charlottetown to Halifax during medical school, or between Moncton and Antigonish to see the in-laws when my children were younger. Nowadays, I don't do any intercity driving during storms at all.

There was once I was driving back to Halifax from PEI when i was a 4th year medical student. It was just after Christmas, and late at night, just after a storm. I had to be at the hospital early the next morning for a shift on the floor.

I was driving my first car (a Dodge Omni), a little front wheel drive shitbox that I got second hand. This was before the Cobequid Pass was built, and I was taking the route over Folly Mountain. It was no longer actively snowing, but there was a thick coating of packed snow on the road, and this was made even more slippy by a thin coating of ice on top from freezing rain. I was going down the other side of the mountain, when an 18 wheeler I was following applied his brakes. I was well behind him, but proactively hit my brakes too, only to find I had NO TRACTION WHATSOEVER.

The Omni slowly began to slide towards the shoulder, and rotated counterclockwise so that I was heading down the hill broadside. After a few seconds, the rear end of the car started to head into the ditch, but because the ditch was filled with snow, the car didn't sink very much. The car then hit an embankment where a driveway entered the highway, and, since the front end of the car was still on the elevated shoulder, (and it was a front wheel drive vehicle), the car was able to gain some traction and pull itself out of the ditch!

I was able to make it safely the rest of the way down the mountain, and at the bottom, the roads were clear, and I was able to make it safely back to Halifax without incident. There was also no damage to the car to boot!
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Old Posted Nov 21, 2020, 8:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MonctonRad View Post
I can think of several, and if this thread has any traction (pun intended), I will relate them individually.

Most of my adventures are long since past, related to driving back and forth from Charlottetown to Halifax during medical school, or between Moncton and Antigonish to see the in-laws when my children were younger. Nowadays, I don't do any intercity driving during storms at all.

There was once I was driving back to Halifax from PEI when i was a 4th year medical student. It was just after Christmas, and late at night, just after a storm. I had to be at the hospital early the next morning for a shift on the floor.

I was driving my first car (a Dodge Omni), a little front wheel drive shitbox that I got second hand. This was before the Cobequid Pass was built, and I was taking the route over Folly Mountain. It was no longer actively snowing, but there was a thick coating of packed snow on the road, and this was made even more slippy by a thin coating of ice on top from freezing rain. I was going down the other side of the mountain, when an 18 wheeler I was following applied his brakes. I was well behind him, but proactively hit my brakes too, only to find I had NO TRACTION WHATSOEVER.

The Omni slowly began to slide towards the shoulder, and rotated counterclockwise so that I was heading down the hill broadside. After a few seconds, the rear end of the car started to head into the ditch, but because the ditch was filled with snow, the car didn't sink very much. The car then hit an embankment where a driveway entered the highway, and, since the front end of the car was still on the elevated shoulder, (and it was a front wheel drive vehicle), the car was able to gain some traction and pull itself out of the ditch!

I was able to make it safely the rest of the way down the mountain, and at the bottom, the roads were clear, and I was able to make it safely back to Halifax without incident. There was also no damage to the car to boot!
Nice!
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Old Posted Nov 21, 2020, 8:18 PM
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I was driving on ON-7 between Havelock and Norwood in late December 2017. I couldn’t see the lane marking too well so I stayed right as much as I could. Then I went onto the snow-covered right shoulder, swerved 6 times with traffic in both ways, before finally regaining control. I was like, “Darn it! I stayed right to avoid head-on collision and this did just the opposite!!”
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Old Posted Nov 21, 2020, 8:22 PM
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A few come to mind:

In my younger days, I shuttled pizzas around. I recall a snowy Friday night driving on a rural road. It was a 90 degree sweeper turn. I at least had the relative brains to attempt this corner at a reasonable speed. As I rounded the corner, the rear end of the Saturn decided to keep turning as I rounded the corner.

I recall seeing the guard rail through the windshield and deciding that down the embankment was not where I really wanted to end my night. As a foolish twenty-something, I cranked in a pile of opposite lock into the steering. The car swung back onto the road. And kept turning in the opposite direction. The final score was 180 degrees backward facing in the direction I had came from.

But yes, I've done many a white-knuckle, white-out drive in the dark on sections of Ontario highways 11, 17 and 144. Where's the road? Somewhere under the snow - just stay away from the inky blackness of oblivion down the embankment. Hope the oncoming headlights yield enough space.

Fun times.
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Old Posted Nov 21, 2020, 8:34 PM
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I spent a night nearly freezing to death in my car after it slid off of the Okanagan Connector near Pennask Summit, in the middle of an ill-fated trip (for a job interview) to Vancouver from Winfield, during a late November blizzard. There was no snow on the ground when I left Winfield at 1230am (after my shift as a security guard in some godforsaken trailer park). I was driving an old Honda Accord without winter tires. Really bad idea. I had no inkling of how bad it could get in the mountain passes during a blizzard. No cellphones back then (1994), or at least, very few people had them (and they wouldn't have worked in the mountain passes anyways as there was no coverage).
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Old Posted Nov 21, 2020, 11:53 PM
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Anytime snow sticks to the roads in Vancouver, it is a nightmare. I had to drive to Boston Bar in the winter time once. And it was at night. I dont care what part of the country you are from, thats a scary drive.
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Old Posted Nov 22, 2020, 12:44 AM
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Nothing too exciting, but last February I had to drive from Montreal to Pennsylvania for work, and on the return trip I spent a night and most of the day in Syracuse. It's a pretty easy four-hour drive back to Montreal from there, but by the time I left it was starting to snow, and as I approached the border, it was becoming quite heavy and the road was slippery. I thought it would get better when I finally made it to the 401, but as I approached Gananoque, the temperature plummeted and the snowfall was replaced by crazy winds and big drifts of powdery snow blowing off the adjacent fields. All of this, plus the usual heavy semi-trailer traffic along the highway and maniacs thinking it's okay to drive 120km/h in white-out conditions. On a few occasions traffic came to a complete standstill for 15-20 minutes at a time, which is when I learned that if you're the last vehicle in a jam on a dark winter night, you need to put your hazard lights on so you don't get rear ended. Everything turned out fine, but that easy four-hour trip ended up being a very stressful nine hours.

Otherwise I haven't had too many bad experiences, mainly because I avoid winter road trips, and driving in Montreal in the winter is actually pretty easy because we spend $200 million a year on snow removal
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Old Posted Nov 22, 2020, 3:54 AM
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I would regularly drive the 401 or 403 between Hamilton/London/Toronto/whatever in whiteout blizzard conditions. Usually in a rush with my windows half cleared and uncleared ice falling off my roof the whole way.
I was a great terrible driver.
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Old Posted Nov 22, 2020, 4:30 AM
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Watch reality show "Highway Through Hell" to know what crossing mountain passes in the winter is like around here.
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Old Posted Nov 22, 2020, 6:46 AM
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I'm 59, from the prairies, and have lived across the country. I have too many winter driving stories to count.

Whiteouts, blinding snow, heavy wet snow, sheer ice, minus motherfucker temps, mountain passes, lake effect snow I've experienced them all.

The most memorable:

Driving a Ventura Van with the family. My two kids were 9 and 11 years of age.
We were heading back to Victoria after visiting family in Sylvan Lake AB. AB Highway 11 was clear all the way to Saskatchewan River Crossing when the snow started to fall. It got thicker and thicker as we headed south on AB93 and was really coming down when the TCH Junction appeared. What I should have done was just continue across the overpass and reset. But instead took the offramp at speed and not realizing until too late that its tighter than normal. So I white knuckled it as we teetered on the edge of flying off the road. As I came upon the TCH I took all 3 lanes to gain control of the sliding van and praying to all the gods that there wasn't a semi coming up the highway. I know that my wife was gripping the seat rest and not saying a word. Of course the kids in the back were oblivious to the danger and said "Daddy do that again!!" The absolute relief that washes over you after that shot of adrenaline is crazy.
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Old Posted Nov 22, 2020, 12:35 PM
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I only have two stories from personal experience, though before I was born there were a couple of winter driving fatalities in my family.

The first and most vivid one I remember is driving to school with my mother during a snowstorm. We spun out on a steep street into parked cars on the opposite side. Mom told me to go knock on the door of the nearest house to call Dad to come get us. I did that, but being a kid I didn't truly understand physics yet and started to run back to the car. I slipped at a good speed, got some air on a very steep street. I landed basically right on my shoulder blades. I'll never forget the feeling. It wasn't pain, it was pressure - just felt like there was something crushing my chest. I couldn't breath, my screams came out like short little barks. It was a lot No broken bones or anything though, and I was fine later that day.

The other one that stays with me - we were driving out to visit my paternal grandmother on the Burin Peninsula, just Dad and I alone (Mom hates it out there and refuses to go if she can avoid it). It wasn't snowing anymore but the storm was only recently over. We came around a corner, heading steeply downhill, with a cliff off the opposite side of the road. And, suddenly, a fucking snowplow moving the same direction as we were but like 15 km/hr. Dad managed to stop our slide before we came aboard of the plow or went off the cliff. He got a good fright that took a while for him to recover from, which was VERY out of character - he's hilarious and laughs off almost everything.

In both instances I also remember my parents TRYING to reach their hands across my chest before impact (as if that would make a difference) - but in both cases they basically just punched me in the chest because they were too excited lol
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Old Posted Nov 22, 2020, 3:51 PM
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I've been lucky, I haven't had any really hairy winter driving experiences... I do my damndest to stay off the highways when the weather is really bad.

That said, I've driven in more than a few blizzards with zero-visibility conditions where you can see maybe a metre in front of your car. You don't really want to keep driving but you also don't want to stop for fear of someone plowing into you...

Last edited by esquire; Nov 22, 2020 at 4:15 PM.
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Old Posted Nov 22, 2020, 4:06 PM
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A lot of my winter driving horror stories have occurred around Christmas time. Family pressures demand that you hit the road at this time, and here in the east, Christmas is often a very stormy transition season as the dead of winter is setting in.

Another story is from about 1995. We were driving from Moncton to Antigonish on Christmas Day after opening our gifts at home to have Christmas dinner with my in laws.

We had a brand new Motorola cellular flip phone - our first. We thought we would surprise my wife's parents with a call from the road to announce that we would be at their place in less than an hour (cell phones were pretty exotic back then).

We placed the call from New Glasgow. The drive from Moncton to New Glasgow had been completely uneventful on clear pavement and with sunny skies, but you could see squall clouds to our north off of the Northumberland Strait. Pictou County is prone to squall activity, and just before we hit New Glasgow, some light flurry activity started. Apparently this one streamer had been sitting over New Glasgow all day.

We crested the hill leading into the town at the same time that my wife made contact on the phone with her parents, and all of a sudden, at the very same time, we hit full on winter!! The change was insanely dramatic. The snowfall was intense and it was quite windy. We went from a dusting of snow on the pavement to about 15 cm on the roadway in the space of about 500 metres. The road hadn't been recently plowed, and traffic in front of us slowed to a crawl in a matter of seconds. It was a real struggle to slow down enough while maintaining control so that we didn't rear end anyone.

I had a real vision that my wife would be on her very first cellphone call to her parents describing in detail the events leading to our fatal car crash as it happened in real time.........
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Old Posted Nov 22, 2020, 6:37 PM
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A drive from Guelph to Burlington in mid-November 4 or 5 years ago. I hadn't put my winter tires on yet, and it was just supposed to be rainy that night so I wasn't too worried about the trip. But Mother Nature decided, as she often does, that there should be colder temperatures north of the 401.

I left Guelph earlier than planned, when heavy wet snow began to fall, figuring if I could get far enough south I'd just be driving in rain... and that the snow would probably melt when it fell anyway. It did just that while I was still in town, but getting on the highway the snow changed to blinding sleet and freezing rain, and Hwy 6 (the Hanlon Expressway... a four lane divided highway that's a mix of interchanges and at-grade intersections) turned into an icy horror show.

I managed to do about 20 km/h at the fastest, but probably averaged closer 10 on that section of 6, and the intersections were really scary. There were a few drivers that did not approach them with enough caution and either slid on through or right off the road. Luckily that highway runs mostly in a straight line, aside from one section where there's a gentle S-curve which wasn't very gentle that night and another with a bend. Visibility was horrible as the sleet was coming straight at my windshield, and the highway is only lit near the crossing roads.

True to early winter form, things were a bit warmer near the 401 and the pavement was just wet, with no precipitation at all as I got on Hwy 6 south and I was able to unclench and drive at normal speed. But for almost an hour it was very tense.
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Old Posted Nov 22, 2020, 7:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Denscity View Post
Watch reality show "Highway Through Hell" to know what crossing mountain passes in the winter is like around here.
it's not always like what reality TV wants you to believe - we've made many wintertime trips to many areas of BC and almost all of them were uneventful. A few times stopped for avalanche control but that's about it for over 3 decades of driving over BC passes.

As far as my best winter story - my grandfather towing the family station wagon over drifts to the plowed gravel road after a winter storm in SE Alberta in the mid-60's, even the tractor didn't break through the drifts because the snow was drifted/packed in so hard.
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Old Posted Nov 27, 2020, 12:13 PM
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My buddy took 10 hours to get to ottawa one time - left toronto at 5pm on a Friday and didn’t pull into his parents house in suburban Barrhaven until 2am. Just whiteout blizzards the whole way.


My worst winter driving was on highway 3 from Vancouver to Osoyoos. It was raining in Vancouver in late May and my Ontario ass didn’t realize what that means in mountain passes.. up we went, and the snow started coming down in thick, wet, layers. And fast as hell. Went from clear to whiteout in a matter of seconds. I knew we just had to clear the mountain pass as it would be raining in Osoyoos still, so I just kept Driving since we would get stuck otherwise.. had to drive around a truck jack-knifed in the middle of the road at one point. I saw highway maintenance trucks going the other way to close the highway.

Made it out fine and was eating lunch in Osoyoos in 20 degree weather an hour later.

Generally I dislike long range winter driving the most, even if conditions aren’t terrible. I remember driving back from New York a few years ago and there was just light snow on I-90. Driving through it at night with the glare for 7 hours just completely exhausts you.
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Old Posted Nov 27, 2020, 12:34 PM
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Granted, this CBC New Brunswick story is about an event from 106 years ago, but it makes an entertaining read, and shows the folly of winter driving in the distant past.

U.S. sisters uncover rare photos of historic Saint John car
Gail Middleton Zellars's grandfather was at wheel of Maritime Singer car on gruelling winter trip
Connell Smith · CBC News · Posted: Nov 26, 2020 6:00 AM AT | Last Updated: November 26
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-b...ture-1.5815691

The bit about the portion of the trip between Moncton and Amherst taking 28 hours is interesting. At normal highway speed in the modern era, this trip takes only 40 minutes.
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Old Posted Nov 27, 2020, 12:51 PM
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I-90 reminds me of my story on that interstate. Driving back from Syracuse back in 2009 when a blizzard starts. My car was still fairly new at the time and it was then I discovered that it doesn't have a low washer fluid warning. Well I ran out and the wiper blades were highly ineffective while driving back in the dark with the snow leaving streaks across the windshield.

White knuckled it to the next exit made it to a gas station to refill. After that I realized you gotta be prepared for the winter.

And since then, I've postponed trips to Pittsburgh in February (black ice conditions in that hilly city was a no no for me) and State College aka Happy Valley aka home of Penn State in October (massive snow storm there in the Appalaichians). And that's where my policy of never buying game tickets well in advance, especially for far away games and especially in the winter comes in handy.

I also watch the forecast closely, which is something available to us now that we didn't have the luxury of using before. In 2017 after watching another game at Syracuse I knew there was going to be lake effect snow coming off Erie and I left just in time, but it also meant I couldn't go to the Boxing HOF like I wanted to.

We were checking the phone as we turned north on the I-190 and back into Ontario and saw that where we had come from was just starting to get pelted by snow.
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