Rain makes commute a fright

  • Julie Muhlstein / Herald Columnist
  • Monday, January 7, 2002 9:00pm
  • Local News

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t use this space to whine about a miserable commute. I grouse in the interest of safety, and because so many of us Monday were in the same — excuse the cliche — boat.

I live two minutes from work, but drive every other week in a carpool to my son’s high school. We had left at 6 a.m. and navigated I-5 through solid rain.

Rainy road tips

  • Increase following distance.

  • Slow down; it takes longer to stop on wet roads.

  • If vehicle hydroplanes, don’t slam brakes. Ease off accelerator and feather brakes.

  • After driving through standing water, gently apply brakes to dry them.

  • Replace windshield wiper blades every six months. Clean windshield inside and out. Fill washer fluid.

  • Check braking resistance and brake fluid level. Check tire inflation and tread depth.

  • Watch for low spots where water gathers on road; reduce speed.

  • Watch for brake lights far ahead; be aware of traffic in rearview mirror.

    Sources: AAA of Washington and Washington State Patrol

  • Even in the HOV lane, the drive to Seattle was a tense crawl. It was still dark when I dropped my cargo of big kids and headed north with a little kid in back buckled in his car seat.

    With all the standing water, the speed limit was too fast. I was going about 45 mph. I didn’t dare take a hand off the wheel to sip my tea.

    The radio was on, and I was alone enough to sing. As Jewel’s latest played, my 3-year-old slept through his mom’s ragged rendition of "Standing Still."

    Then WHAM, it hit — a wall of water. My windshield wipers, at full speed, couldn’t take the deluge. In a scary instant, my heart nearly stopped. My view was as murky as the vista out a porthole of the sinking Titanic.

    Fearing everything, I saw nothing, not the cars ahead or around me. I jerked my foot off the gas, kept my minivan straight and held my breath.

    A few wiper swipes and I could see, thank God, that I was still in my lane and surrounded by a cushion of space. I cursed the hulking vehicle that had zipped by flooding all in its wake and hoped never to be that spooked again.

    We worry a lot around here about the prospect of snow. Forecasts that even hint of snowfall send nervous drivers in search of chains. We close schools and walk when weather turns wintry.

    Rain? We’re used to it, drizzle to downpour. We think we know how to drive in it.

    But listen to traffic reports on any soggy commute. We’re a bent-metal mess in the rain.

    "It’s common sense, but everybody needs a little reminder," Washington State Patrol Trooper Lance Ramsay said of ferrying our cars around the rain-soaked region.

    The No. 1 cause of accidents in the rain is "following too closely," Ramsay said, describing a scenario much like mine Monday.

    "When a vehicle goes through water it splashes up on another vehicle; then that car slows drastically because the driver can’t see. When you can’t see, your first reaction is to hit the brakes," said Ramsay, who works at the patrol’s headquarters in Marysville.

    "The person following doesn’t know that maybe the windshield just got covered on the car ahead of them and they impact into that vehicle.

    "The car behind has to have enough room to notice and stop without impact," he said.

    Ideally, he said, the distance between cars should be enough for a driver to say "one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three" in the time it takes to cover it.

    "Everybody knows that in the metro area, having that distance is almost absurd. Everybody’s in a hurry," Ramsay said.

    The other rain danger is hydroplaning, when a vehicle’s tires lose contact with the road and skitter on the water surface.

    "You don’t want to hit the brakes," Ramsay said. "The best thing is to feather the brake, use just enough pressure that it doesn’t lock up."

    In training, troopers drive in a "skid pan" covered with an eighth of an inch of water. At higher speeds, when you hit the brakes or turn the wheel "your wheels aren’t connected to the ground; it doesn’t do anything," Ramsay said.

    Again, slow down, feather but don’t slam on brakes, and leave enough space, he said.

    If someone is hydroplaning and hits a barrier, a trooper would likely find that driver was going too fast for conditions, Ramsay added.

    And Monday’s commute, I asked, wasn’t it awful?

    For a wet day, "nothing out of the ordinary," he said. There were accidents.

    None, luckily, involved me.

    Contact Julie Muhlstein via e-mail at muhlsteinjulie@heraldnet.com, write to her at The Herald, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206, or call 425-339-3460.

    Talk to us

    > Give us your news tips.

    > Send us a letter to the editor.

    > More Herald contact information.

    More in Local News

    A view of one of the potential locations of the new Aquasox stadium on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 in Everett, Washington. The site sits between Hewitt Avenue, Broadway, Pacific Avenue and the railroad. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
    20 businesses could be demolished for downtown Everett stadium

    Some business owners say the city didn’t tell them of plans for a new AquaSox stadium that could displace their businesses.

    Kathy Purviance-Snow poses for a photo in her computer lab at Snohomish High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Snohomish, WA. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
    To ban or embrace ChatGPT? Local teachers fight AI with AI — or don’t

    “It has fundamentally changed my teaching in really stressful and exciting ways,” an EvCC teacher said. At all levels of education, ChatGPT poses a tricky question.

    In this Feb. 5, 2018, file photo a Boeing 737 MAX 7 is displayed during a debut for employees and media of the new jet in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
    FAA gives Boeing 90 days to develop plan to fix quality, safety issues

    The agency’s ultimatum comes a day after a meeting with CEO Dave Calhoun and other top Boeing officials in Washington, D.C.

    A man walks by Pfizer headquarters, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in New York. Pfizer will spend about $43 billion to buy Seagen and broaden its reach into cancer treatments, the pharmaceutical giant said. (AP Photo / Mark Lennihan, File)
    Pfizer backs out of Everett manufacturing plant after $43B Seagen deal

    Pfizer finalized the acquisition of the Bothell-based cancer drug developer in December.

    SonShine Preschool inside First Baptist Church Monroe is pictured Friday, March 1, 2024, in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
    SonShine preschool in Monroe to close at the end of the year

    The preschool, operated by First Baptist Church, served kids for 25 years. School leadership did not explain the reason behind the closure.

    Cars drive through snow along I-5 in Snohomish County, Washington on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
    In March, 7 p.m. sunsets are back for Western Washington

    Washingtonians will finally start seeing more sun starting March 10. But a little more winter could be on the way first.

    One of the parking lots at Stevens Pass Thursday afternoon on December 30, 2021.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
    Stevens Pass to charge $20 for parking reservations on busy days

    Two-thirds of spaces will remain free for early arrivers on weekends. Cars with four or more occupants can also park free.

    Days after shootout with Lynnwood police, suspect checks into hospital

    Police learned the 18-year-old was in a hospital in Portland, Oregon. His alleged role in the shooting remained unclear.

    Snohomish County pharmacy tech accused of stealing 2,500 opioid pills

    Rachel Langdon stole oxycodone while working at a Snohomish County pharmacy, according to state Department of Health allegations.

    Patrick Kunz speaks during his sentencing on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington.(Annie Barker / The Herald)
    Everett gymnastics coach who spied on students sentenced to 6 months

    Patrick Kunz, 47, pleaded guilty to charges of voyuerism and possession of child pornography last month.

    Traffic moves along Highway 526 in front of Boeing’s Everett Production Facility on Nov. 28, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / Sound Publishing)
    Everett transgender mechanic alleges Boeing treated her ‘like a zoo animal’

    For years, Boeing allowed toxicity “to fester and grow” at its Everett factory, according to Rachel Rasmussen, an employee from 1989 to 2024.

    Everett police officers survey the scene of a shooting along East Casino Road on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
    Washington’s 5th police academy could be in Snohomish County

    A new academy in Northwest Washington would help clear a lengthy wait list for new police hires to get training.

    Support local journalism

    If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.