Driving Risks in Wake of Polar Vortex

In the wake of the Polar Vortex's record lows comes a dramatic rise in temperature--one that could rapidly melt snow and flood roadways. Flooded roads are dangerous. Here's what to remember when you encounter one.

Severe downpours causes floods, but heavy rains aren’t the only reason a roadway floods. The existing infrastructure may not be capable of handling the flow of water.

In either case, the National Weather Service has a simple message to motorists faced with a flooded roadway.

"Turn around, don't drown," said Chris Vaccaro, public affairs officer for the National Weather Service.

As little as a foot of rushing water can sweep a small vehicle away,” he said. “Two feet of moving water can wash away most vehicles.”

One of the most common mistakes? Underestimating the depth of water.

“Television news broadcasts drivers going through the water, but it’s not a good idea,” Vaccaro said. “Don’t plow ahead when confronted with water, turn around and take an alternate route.”

Floods aren't the only hazard drivers should be aware of. Just like pipes in a home can burst after a freeze-thaw cycle, roads and bridges can suffer similar traumas. Drivers shouldn't be surprised if they see new potholes in various areas around the Midwest most affected by the temperature swing.

Should you need to venture out where the roads are icy, motorists would be wise to take in these safety tips courtesy the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

  • Know Your Vehicle - An unfamiliar vehicle, like a rental or borrowed car, increases the likelihood of an accident in reactive situations. Familiarize yourself with your transportation before beginning a trip.
  • Assess Your Tires and Vital Systems - Before pulling out of your driveway, make sure your car is in good, working order. When it comes to seasonal road conditions, the more grip you have on the road, the better. In wet or icy conditions, more grip will mean more control.
  • Look Ahead - Reading the roadway for signs of trouble can give you the extra few seconds you need to brake safely while avoiding a collision.
  • Be Prepared In Case You Get Stuck - Get ready in case you are sidelined by an emergency. A roadside emergency kit is a must.
  • Avoid multiple maneuvers. Drive to deliberately and avoid quick, reactive driving. A car’s major systems are meant for acceleration, braking, and steering, but not all at once. Expecting a car to do more than one of these operations at a time can be dangerous on winter roads.
  • Watch the Barometer Fall Check temperature on your driving route- Few people take into account the effect temperature has on the air pressure in their tires until the grip they rely on isn’t there. As a general rule, a 10 degree drop in temperature reduces tire pressure by one point.