Our Northwest

NW drivers say they’re comfortable in snow

Friday, December 13, 2013by  Jon Osterberg

Most of your neighbors – 54% – say they’re comfortable driving in snow.
   Also, more than four out of 10 claim they’re more skillful in snow and ice than other drivers.
   Based on what you see around you, do you believe them?
   We learned some interesting stuff from the latest PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll, based on responses from 1,000 Washington and Portland-area drivers.
   As you’d expect, Eastern Washington residents are more comfortable driving in snow than westsiders – 64% of them said they’re confident versus 54% west of the Cascades. Not surprising, since eastsiders live in a colder climate.
   The finding that concerns me involves tire chains. Just 37% of Washingtonians carry them in their cars in winter (Portland is better at 48%), and 53% of Northwest drivers have never put chains on their vehicle.
   Those folks need to practice at home. The last place you want to learn how to install chains is in a snowstorm, on the shoulder, with numb fingers. I know, because that’s where I learned.
   Years ago our family celebrated Christmas at my sister’s ranch near Rathdrum, Idaho. A nasty snowstorm pounded the region the morning we returned home. I was a 19-year-old driving my 1961 Impala, bound for Bellevue via I-90 with my mom and our Beagle.
   We did okay crossing the flat Columbia Basin. But the long hill between Vantage and Ryegrass Summit kicked our fannies. It was dark, my Chevy had only rear-wheel drive, and fresh snow covered the pavement.
   I remember the horrible sensation of losing traction. First the car fishtailed to the right, so I backed off the throttle to straighten out. Going slowly, perhaps 40 mph, I plodded uphill.
   Then the car fishtailed again, except this time it happened so quickly that the next thing I knew, we’d done a 180 spin and slid to a stop on the right shoulder, pointing the wrong way toward oncoming traffic. Mom shrieked – she’d grown up in Los Angeles, and this alien predicament scared her. Our Beagle whined nervously in the back seat.
   I grabbed a flashlight, fetched my new unused Campbell chains out of the trunk, and crawled around the rear tires. My car was wedged against a short snowbank, which actually was a good thing, because beyond it the shoulder dropped off steeply into a ravine.
   Soon my fingers went numb. I distinctly recall lying under the rear axle and looking downhill, through the car’s undercarriage, at approaching headlights careening left and right. Other cars were losing traction, too, sliding perilously close to us.
   It took forever to mount both chains in the dark. Once finished, I waited for a break in traffic, then did a U-turn on the roadway to point us in the right uphill direction. We crawled into Ellensburg at about 30 mph and got a cheap motel for the night. Mom was just too unsettled to continue home until daylight the next day.
   That’s why PEMCO encourages people to practice putting their chains on at home. In daylight. Away from traffic.

Washington recycles: Residents of the Evergreen State recycled more than half of its municipal waste in 2012, according to a recent Spokesman-Review article. Nationally, 34.7% of waste was recycled in 2011, compared with 50.1% in Washington last year. A Department of Ecology spokesperson said the state’s numbers for discarding trash are at their lowest in 24 years.

Celestial fireworks: Insomniacs can catch the brightest meteor shower of the year Dec. 13 and 14. The Geminids, unique because they originate from an asteroid rather than a comet, will peak during the early morning hours Friday and Saturday. They’re brighter, whiter, and move a bit slower than most meteor showers, making them worth getting up for just before dawn – assuming we have gaps in our Northwest cloud cover.

Gifts up in smoke: Lights on a live Christmas tree ignited a Medford mobilehome blaze Dec. 10 that fire investigators blamed on faulty wiring. Flames burned a hole in the floor and consumed the tree, plus all of the gifts under it.
   PEMCO recommends discarding light strings at the first sign of trouble, like intermittent outages, tiny cracks in the wires, or frayed cords. Read our consumer-tip sheet.
Prep your pipes: The Everett Daily Herald reports that Snohomish County Fire District 1 received 63 reports of burst pipes following five straight days of sub-freezing temperatures.
   Recently, this blog has shared tips on how to prevent frozen pipes. They’re worth revisiting. They’re easy steps that any homeowner can take, such as remembering to open cabinet doors under sinks to circulate warm air. Read our tips.

Pigskin preview, 2014: Bowl season hasn’t even begun, but the football fanatics at the Eugene Register-Guard are already looking toward next year and assessing the strength of Pac-12 teams.
   Much depends on which athletes do or don’t declare for this spring’s pro draft. Even so, some teams return many starters, always a plus.
   UCLA, which nearly won the Pac-12 South title and extended coach Jim Mora’s contract for another six years, returns all but one starter on offense, and seven of 11 defensive starters are underclassmen. If quarterback Brett Hundley returns next year, the Bruins could be conference favorites and national contenders.
   Oregon got a boost when star QB Marcus Mariota decided to stay. The Fighting Ducks, already a national power, return 10 starters on offense and lose just five on defense. I’m expecting a Bruins-Ducks battle for conference supremacy.
   Steve Sarkisian inherits a veteran USC Trojan team that loses only one senior starter on offense and defense.
   New Huskies coach Chris Petersen takes over a potent offense that graduates only two starters, although ace running back Bishop Sankey and the nation’s best tight end, John Mackey Award-winning Austin Seferian-Jenkins, may turn pro. If they return, UW fans should enjoy plenty of scoring.
   For California, the good news is the Bears return all but two defensive starters next year. The bad news? Those starters led the Bears to a 1-11 record in 2013.

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