My Snowy Traveling Nightmare
January 4, 2002
My wife and I had been planning on traveling to Virginia Beach, Virginia in the first week of January for the past several months since we were not able to be with our friends and family there during the Christmas holidays. Even after hearing an unfamiliar weather forecast for snow in the Upstate of South Carolina for the past week, we had no intentions of changing our plans to drive 400 miles to Virginia on account of the possibility of some inclement weather. We were very skeptical of the real chance we had for a winter wonderland. Boy, were we wrong!
Accumulation totals of 3-16 inches have been reported of the four-letter "s" word spreading across the Southeast since the first major winter storm of 2002 hit on Wednesday night. Growing up in the South my entire life, I have not been fortunate enough to see a lot of snow in my lifetime. However, after my harrowing experience of driving in it on my way to Virginia on Wednesday night, it would not bother me if I never saw the flaky white stuff ever again!
When my wife and I left Spartanburg at 5 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, there was very little snow falling at all. In fact, there were just a few flurries harmlessly floating around in the atmosphere. As we made our way up I-85 towards North Carolina, it looked like we might have a much smoother ride than we had anticipated on our trip to Virginia Beach.
However, it started snowing a little harder as we approached Charlotte, North Carolina. We heard on the radio that Charlotte was forecast to receive up to 10 inches of snow. True to form, the snow was coming down pretty hard as we traveled through the city. Although traffic was somewhat slower than usual, we made it through the city in a reasonable amount of time. As an added bonus, the snow quickly stopped as we were leaving Charlotte. We thought the worst was over.
Over the next couple of hours, we did not see a single snowflake as we drove towards Raleigh/Durham at a normal driving speed. I remember seeing a road sign that showed we were only 56 miles to Durham. Then, all of a sudden, it began snowing very hard! A few miles down the road, it was evident that the worst was yet to come as we approached a long line of cars that had come to a complete stop on the interstate. Old man winter was having his fun at the expense of the motorists on I-85!
After a 30-45 minute wait on what had become the I-85 parking lot with snow swirling all around us, the traffic was able to move again, albeit now at a snail's pace. For me, the fastest I felt comfortable driving in these conditions was 30 mph. Since I had never driven in snow before, I did not want to take any chances going any faster than that. This strategy would serve me well as the storm intensified over the next few hours.
Driving carefully with snow blasting my fogged up windshield, I forced myself to concentrate on the road despite the poor visibility. In areas where there were no street lights, darkness combined with the snow to blind me. I literally could not see where I was going. The only way I could see at all was by looking at the road just in front of my headlights trying to drive in the same tracks left by other vehicles. In addition to these treacherous conditions, there were other problems to contend with.
Many drivers became so impatient with the slow pace of traffic, they tried to get around it by passing the slower moving cars. Mine was one of them. In my rear view mirror, I could see their headlights as they approached my vehicle. In an effort to try to keep from getting run over, I tried to manuever my car to the right so these cars could pass me on the left. However, this caused my car to slip and slide on the road as these vehicles passed me at a high rate of speed, some of them traveling twice as fast as I was. They nearly caused my car to do a tailspin several times. The worst perpetrators were the truck drivers. When their 18-wheelers came roaring by my car, their tires would kick up big globs of snow and throw it up against my windshield, further decreasing my ability to see the road. It was only by God's protection that we did not get in an accident.
After driving under some tense moments on I-85 for nearly eight hours (in normal conditions, the entire trip to Virginia Beach only takes seven hours!), we exited on Hwy. 58 to drive our final 125 miles to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Again, we thought the worst was over.
But our nightmare would continue as the snow fell even harder, the darkness became much worse and drivers were all the more ornery. Hwy. 58 was extremely narrow and was not conducive for passing, even when conditions are perfect. This did not stop several careless drivers from passing our car anyway. I considered pulling off to the side of the road several times, but I decided against it fearing our car would get stuck or slide into a ditch. Although my wife and I were very tired and scared that we might wreck the car after several close calls, we decided to find a motel. Finally, at 3 o'clock in the morning, we found one in Franklin, Virginia, about 65 miles from our final destination. We were relieved to be off the road.
We woke up on Thursday morning rested, able to see the road and with a well-salted, plowed pathway to Virginia Beach courtesy of the Virginia Department of Transportation. When we arrived at our family's house in Virginia Beach, I thanked God for watching over us and keeping us safe on our notorious journey. It is an experience I will not soon forget!