A Winter Stroll

Hi, this is Craig. If you are my Facebook friend you may have seen my live coverage of the events surrounding the unexpected ice that covered roads throughout the St. Louis area Friday night. Cars throughout the region were stuck on the roads for hours due to accidents. I am going to write up the events as well for posterity.

As I headed home from work, ice was already setting in, so the commute down the interstate was slow. MacKenzie wanted me to stop by the library, which I thought was perhaps not a good idea given the conditions. But she also said southbound traffic along our road was at a standstill due to an accident, and that I should go down and come home from the south. That route took me by the library, so I took care of that errand.

I headed home and found that, within a couple of miles from my home, northbound traffic was also not moving, due to the same accident. So I turned around, as some cars ahead of me were doing, and went to cool my heels at a McDonald's. There were a few of us weather refugees there, including a woman who had been trying to go south to Cape Girardeau, but had abandoned that plan and now wanted to head back north to home. It sounded like she might have had to check in to the nearby Super 8 for the night.

MacKenzie suggested that I walk home rather than wait for who knows how many hours, and I was thinking "easy for you to say." But traffic in front of my house was still not moving at all, and I knew of a good spot to park my car about 1.5 miles from home, so I ended up deciding to do that. Right before I reached my chosen parking spot, I slid a wheel into the ditch. I thought I was going to have to leave the car early, but I was able to back out. I was right next to another car that had also slid off the road. So I got back onto the road and slowly advanced to my car abandonment spot.

The Walk Home

I decided to walk back and check on the women in the aforementioned car in the ditch. I encouraged them to try to back out, as I had done, and they were successful (it was a shallow rocky ditch, and they only had one wheel off the road). I suggested that they keep the car in low gear while driving, and headed off on foot towards home at about 6:45 pm, initially keeping to the grass because paved surfaces were slippery. It was about 30 degrees, so it was comfortable walking weather. The temperature had been predicted to be a few degrees higher, hence the lack of preparedness for icy roads.

I stopped to talk to many people in their cars as I shuffled along the way (having moved onto the shoulder). I had more information on the situation than many of them, thanks to what the wife told me about the accident and since I had just seen what was happening on the nearby interstate (a standstill there too). I had a few opportunities to provide assistance to motorists. I tried to help a lady start her truck, but she wasn't receptive to my advice, so I continued on. I arranged a jump start of one person's car, assisted by the driver of the car behind her. I gave my left over sandwich from lunch to a kid in the car with the dead battery (I had eaten some of the remaining food from the previous day's Christmas potluck for lunch instead). I tried to encourage a woman to back up a bit so the truck in front of her could attempt to drive away without fear of sliding into her, but she refused to budge an inch, convinced her car would slide 20 feet into the ditch if she did so

I encountered a couple of fools. This full-size van was off the road, with one wheel in the air. The driver tried several maneuvers to get back on the road. I walked away, fearing that the van would slide out of control and run me down. I looked back to see him driving 15 feet away from the road into the woods, then speeding in reverse back to the highway, but he could not get over the hump in several tries. Another truck further ahead was spinning its wheels, trying to advance forward up a slight hill, but not making much progress.

The van in the ditch
I passed by the accident scene at about 8:15 pm, an hour and a half after my walk started and 4.5 hours after the accident took place.  Tow trucks were in the process of lifting the two vans involved in the crash (a third vehicle was involved but not disabled). I understand that they had been waiting for some salt to get the ice melted so they could tow the vehicles. I also saw what appeared to be the body of the deceased party in the accident (there was one fatality, according to the accident report, and he wasn't wearing a seat belt) surprisingly still on the ground under a sheet. An ambulance was arriving at the scene as I walked by (the surviving, injured parties had already been taken away).

I got home at about 8:30, five hours after I left work that day. I decided that, since the people near my house had been sitting there four hours or so, that I would go hand out water and granola bars to those who had no sustenance. I had some grateful takers, but also met some people who were well-prepared (as your car should also be, with food, water, warm items, and a somewhat full gas tank). What people wanted most, though, was information. I told them that, since the tow trucks had just gone by carrying the vehicles involved in the accident, that the roads should be open soon. It ended up being about half an hour after I went back home that traffic started moving, as the Highway Patrol waited for MODOT to do some salting before letting cars go.

So that was my adventure. That night had some similarities to December 30 of last year, when large-scale flooding of the Meramec River left many people stranded in their cars for hours as the rising water closed all north-south routes. I just barely escaped from that one, too, getting home when things had slowed but before they ground to a halt. I guess that's a benefit of getting to work really early - I go home before the rush.

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