Series of storms blowing in

thurston county: Officials tell drivers to slow down, pay closer attention

ckrotzer@theolympian.comNovember 19, 2012 

The National Weather Service expects three storm systems to hit Western Washington through Thanksgiving, meaning those traveling for the holidays are encouraged to slow down and be alert on slick roads.

Rain fell in the Olympia area Saturday as the first storm made its way to the coast. Another storm was expected Sunday night, followed by a heavier storm today, according to meteorologist Jay Meher.

“It’s supposed to be raining at times through Tuesday night,” he said. “At this point, they are talking about the Monday system being a bit stronger.”

Wind also is expected to pick up with today’s storm. Rainfall along the coast could reach 3 inches tonight.

The early-fall streak of clear skies and sunshine is a memory, replaced by fall’s crisp, frosted-window mornings and spurts of heavy rain, soon to be followed by the chance of winter snow.

In either case, law enforcement and road crews ask that drivers take extra precautions.

“I recommend drivers do two simple things when driving conditions are poor,” said State Patrol trooper Guy Gill. “Reduce your speed and increase your following distance. Doing that can greatly reduce the chance you will be involved in a collision.”

Before winter weather arrives, Gill said, drivers should make sure they have proper equipment in their car in case of an emergency, including a shovel, chains, first aid supplies, gloves, a flashlight, a blanket and an ice scraper.

It’s also a good time to check the condition of tires, wiper blades and lights, as well as fluid levels.

Gill said speed is the leading cause of crashes in poor driving conditions, especially in those similar to last January’s snow and ice storms.

There were 489 crashes in Thurston and Pierce counties during Jan. 17-21, the worst days of the storm. There were 87 crashes during the same period in 2011.

The Sheriff’s Office saw a spike in crashes during the same five-day period: 29 crashes in 2012 vs. 14 in 2011, according to Lt. Greg Elwin.

Speed is the biggest factor in crashes in the county, he said, especially when paired with overconfident drivers behind the wheel of a four-wheel or all-wheel-drive vehicle.

“These vehicles typically don’t stop or slow much better than a two-wheel-drive vehicle, especially in emergency or crash-avoidance situations,” Elwin said.

Traveling at slow speeds on city streets can be an issue for drivers, too.

While the Olympia Police Department did not see a spike in the number of crashes during January’s storm, it does see drivers having the same problems on the road every year.

The major issues of concern are driving with fogged windows, following too close, not using proper turn signals and driving onto closed or blocked-off roads and hills.

“Studded tires, four-wheel drive and chains don’t give people permission to travel on closed roadways,” said Laura Wohl, spokeswoman for the department.

Thurston County’s road crew is ready to respond in icy conditions. The crew includes 16 snowplows, 15 yard vehicles of different sizes and five 1,000-gallon anti-icing trucks. Crews constantly monitor the weather report to determine whether de-icing is needed.

Drivers are asked to be patient when they approach a de-icing truck, sand truck or snowplow.

“If we see cars coming toward us, the operator will try and turn down the sand or turn it off briefly so the car is not hit with sand,” said Lucy Mills, Thurston County road operations manager. “If you follow too close and get right behind the truck, we can’t see you and you may get some sand on your car.”

Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476 @chelseakrotzer

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