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Drive in snow? Transplants from chilly climates rib York County locals about it

Weather experts are predicting a mix of snow and ice this weekend. The region has a mix of drivers with varying skills in such conditions. The best strategy is to stay off the roads
Weather experts are predicting a mix of snow and ice this weekend. The region has a mix of drivers with varying skills in such conditions. The best strategy is to stay off the roads aburriss@heraldonline.com

If federal census data and Facebook memes are to be believed, northeastern York County has some of the most -- and least -- experienced snow drivers to be found.

And this weekend they’ll share the roads.

“Stay home,” AAA Carolinas spokesperson Tiffany Wright urged drivers across the Carolinas ahead of a potentially dangerous winter storm that could impact parts of the region this weekend. “If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can.”

Southerners tend to take a ribbing on social media and amongst transplant friends during snow storms.

Schools close at the hint of what some perceive as moderate snow. Grocery stores can’t keep bread and milk.

A Google search Friday for “Southern snow meme” brought up an all but endless list.

The first shows “Snow in the North” with a school bus and cars driving, atop “Snow in the South” you see dozens of vehicles stranded in snow, one of them on fire. Another shows advice for drivers, to pretend they’re driving grandma to church while she holds “a crock pot full of gravy.”

Hotbed growth areas like Fort Mill, Tega Cay, Lake Wylie and even Indian Land in Lancaster County have plenty of transplants, and natives. Census data shows those areas are growing as fast as most anywhere in the region and country.

Within two hours of asking, the Fort Mill Times Facebook page had more than 40 comments about what drivers should expect if snow falls.

The consensus? People here drive too fast and leave too little room for stopping.

“Yes, the vehicle can still accelerate relatively quick,” posted Keith Mitchell. “But braking distances increase dramatically. Tires play a huge role too. The half bald summer tires on the majority of cars here stand no chance.”

Of note, for every transplant driver stating snow driving isn’t a big deal, there were several snow-area transplants who are unwilling, or at least hesitant, to try it here.

“I’m from Alaska,” commented Dera Sipe. “If you don’t have proper snow tires (and no one here does most likely, I’m talking about something like Blizzaks or studs) you are going to have issues with driving safely in the snow. It really doesn’t matter if you have all wheel drive if your tires aren’t made for snow.”

Several others mentioned fewer plows and snow equipment here, given how seldom it snows hard.

“For transplants, just remember that they don’t have the same number of plows and salt trucks so the roads will be messy, especially if there is ice,” commented Kelly Jones. “I grew up and learned how to drive in the snow belt and here I just hunker down and wait for it to melt.”

Others wondered not why anyone would try to drive.

“It will most likely warm up and melt the stuff if a few hours,” commented New York transplant Deborah Cirincione-Giudice. “Is it really worth risking it? And everything will probably be closed down anyway!”

Rex Freeman grew up in Fort Mill. He recalls older folks warning him any time a forecast showed snow. He knows once roads ice, it’s time to use the bread and milk -- not go looking for them.

“Be ready before it comes to you,” he said.

Freeman has owned Freeman’s Body Shop for about three decades. It’s a place where damaged cars show up after storms.

“Usually about this time when something happens like this, we expect to see more wrecks than usual,” he said. “We have to plan for that. We kind of all expect something more than what’s usually happening.”

Freeman said he had 250 claims a few years back after a massive hail storm. But even with many staying off roads, snow causes problems.

“It’s mostly just people trying to go out in it,” Freeman said. “People just running off in ditches. And in ice storms, tree limbs falling on cars doing damage.”

It isn’t just Fort Mill people. It isn’t just Southerners.

“Most of them that come here, I’ve never recognized them before,” Freeman said. “They’re not from around here.”

Freeman doesn’t drive a wrecker anymore, but remembers well when he did. He recalls a massive snowstorm in the early 1980s, when he had to use snow chains. He recalls a far smaller storm just a couple of years ago. Freeman came down to get a car and found his whole parking lot frozen solid.

“I honestly slid all the way down the parking lot,” he said. “I fell myself.”

With most body shops on a couple weeks backlog from all the recent rain, Freeman said he expects a mess if snow comes.

“Just stay off the roads,” Freeman said. “I know you’ve got to go to the grocery stores. If it was me, I’d just stay off the road.”

What you need to know

AAA Carolinas gives a variety of winter driving advice. For standard winter driving the group suggests:

Avoid driving while you’re fatigued. Get the proper amount of rest before taking on winter weather tasks.

Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage.

Make certain your tires are properly inflated.

Never mix radial tires with other tire types.

Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up.

If possible, avoid using your parking brake in cold, rainy and snowy weather.

Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface (wet, ice, sand).

Always look and steer where you want to go.

Use your seat belt at all times.

And tips for snow in particular:

Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to move in a hurry. And take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: it takes longer to slow down on icy roads.

Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, turning – nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement.

The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to 10 seconds. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed to stop.

Know your brakes. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.

Don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.

Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning.

Don’t stop going up a hill. There is nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road.

Don’t tempt fate: watch the snow from indoors.

And if you get stuck in the snow:

Watch weather reports prior to a long-distance drive or before driving in isolated areas. Delay trips when especially bad weather is expected. If you must leave, let others know your route, destination and estimated time of arrival.

Always make sure your vehicle is in peak operating condition by having it inspected at a respected auto repair facility.

Pack a cell phone with your local AAA’s number, plus blankets, gloves, hats, food, water and any needed medication in your vehicle.

If you become snow-bound, stay with your vehicle. It provides temporary shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to locate you.

Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna or place a cloth at the top of a rolled up window to signal distress.

Make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with snow, ice or mud.

Use whatever is available to insulate your body from the cold. This could include floor mats, newspapers or paper maps.

If possible, run the engine and heater just long enough to remove the chill and still conserve gasoline.

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