Behind the Forecast: How flash freezes make travel dangerous

Listen to Science Behind the Forecast with Meteorologist Tawana Andrew every Friday on 89.3 WFPL at 7:45 a.m.
Icy road
Black ice can make travel incredibly dangerous. (WBAY file photo)(WBAY)
Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 7:56 AM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Snow, freezing rain, sleet, rain, and wind are well-known winter weather travel hazards. One hazard that’s sometimes forgotten is a flash freeze.

A flash freeze occurs when temperatures drop quickly below freezing in a short amount of time when roads or other surfaces are wet. The drop in temperatures can create black ice on sidewalks, roads, and other surfaces.

Flash freezes are most common after strong winter cold fronts. Sometimes, temperatures can drop more than 40° in a few hours!

Ice decreases pavement friction, makes driving difficult, and leads to crashes.

In fact, between 2007 and 2016, there were 156,164 crashes caused by icy roadways across the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Those wrecks injured 41,860 people and killed 521 others. Icy road crashes represented 13% of weather-related crashes, 11% of weather-related injuries, and 10% of weather-related fatalities.

Kentucky State Police data shows that during 2020 five of the 718 icy road collisions were fatal.

In Indiana during 2019, icy roads accounted for 7,864 crashes. Twenty-four of these were fatal, according to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.

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