PHOENIX — One of the great things about Arizona winters is being able to savor a refreshingly mild morning in desert communities and then play in the snow that same afternoon.
Just don’t let being able to wear shorts and flip-flops in Tucson, Bullhead City or Mesa leave you thinking that winter driving is any less challenging in Arizona’s high country than in other parts of the country. In fact, snow that makes Flagstaff, the Mogollon Rim, the White Mountains, Prescott and Mount Lemmon popular in the winter can be even more challenging because so much of it can fall in such a brief period.
“Arizona is blessed with an awesome diversity of winter weather, and we all have a chance to get out and enjoy it,” said Governor Doug Ducey. “Taking some easy steps to prepare for driving in areas with snow and ice can make the trip more enjoyable and safe for everyone.”
Preparing your vehicle for winter travel
Pay special attention to the battery, ignition and exhaust systems, thermostat, defroster, heater and brakes.
Use snow tires, chains or studded tires as recommended, required or both on snowy, icy roads. Studded tires are permitted on Arizona highways from Oct. 1 to May 1.
Make sure the antifreeze in your radiator can handle freezing temperatures.
Install new windshield wiper blades and solvent.
Ensure your headlights, taillights, brake lights and turn signals work well and can be seen if visibility is low.
Change your motor oil to a winter grade.
To start with, the Arizona Department of transportation (ADOT) suggests, leave the shorts and flip-flops at home. Winter is the real deal in higher elevations, yet it’s not unheard of for motorists and passengers to be found shivering in stranded vehicles or rest areas without warm clothing, not to mention an emergency kit that includes blankets.
The average snowfall across the country is 25 inches per year. The Flagstaff area can see 90 inches or more annually, while the White Mountains region averages 30 inches per year.
Snow can fall in virtually every part of Arizona. That’s why ADOT has nearly 200 snowplows and 400 trained snowplow operators stationed all around the state to keep highways open when storms hit.
Even so, drivers should leave prepared for the possibility that snow and ice will make for a longer trip and could lead to a highway closure until snowplows can do their work. That comes down to what you take in your vehicle; how you prepare yourself, your passengers and your vehicle; and how you approach driving in potentially adverse conditions.
ADOT’s Know Snow campaign, which kicked off Nov. 15, offers the following tips:
ADOT cautions motorists to slow down and leave extra room between vehicles. Driving slower and leaving space between your vehicle and others when snow and ice are present can improve your ability to brake and prevent skids.
The organization also says it’s important to leave prepared: dress for cold weather, bring extra clothes and gloves, be sure your cellphone is charged, and pack food, water and necessary medications.
In case the weather takes a turn for the worse mid-transit, ADOT suggests packing an emergency kit: take blankets, a flashlight, an ice scraper, a small shovel, a container of sand for traction and hazard lights or reflectors in case your vehicle becomes disabled.
Beware of black ice, which tends to form at night when melting snow refreezes -- it’s especially common on bridges.
Most importantly, ADOT says you should stay up to date on current or changing weather conditons, adding that you should pay careful attention to messages on overhead boards. ADOT’s Twitter feed (@ArizonaDOT) is an excellent source of information.
You may be sharing the road with plows, especially during storms or early hours. ADOT suggests trying to stay at least four vehicle lengths behind a plow, and not passing until the operator pulls over.
The agency cautions drivers to exit highways completely before playing in the snow. Highway shoulders are for stranded vehicles and emergency vehicles, not for throwing snowballs. A plow can throw a lot of snow and ice well off the roadway. Travel with the knowledge that popular snow-play areas, including those along US 180 northwest of Flagstaff, can get a lot of visitors after snow falls and especially around holiday weekends.
Heavy traffic can mean a slow trip back at day’s end, so be prepared to spend more time on the road than you may expect in winter weather.
“It’s thrilling to see Arizona’s high country in its winter glory,” said Ducey. “We just want you to Know Snow before leaving so your trip can be safe as well as memorable.”