Michigan Winter Storm Warning: How to drive in a snow storm

For most driving experts, their best advice for driving in the snow is: don't.

Staying home is the best way to stay safe during any kind of severe weather, but especially during a snow storm. Driving can be dangerous with even a little snow laid over the road.

Mix in chances of poor visibility, the possibility of ice, and freezing temperatures and the elements quickly become an overwhelming obstacle.

For the occasions when driving is necessary, here are a few tips to abide by when venturing out onto the road.

Check out FOX 2's tips for preparing a vehicle for a storm here.

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Never pass snowplows

Very few vehicles should be traveling as fast as snowplows when on the road in the middle of a storm.

According to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, the risk of overtaking one comes with getting caught in a "snow cloud" or striking one of the plow's wings if it's outfitted with one. They typically extend on the side of the truck.

Drivers should leave at least six vehicle lengths of space between them and the back of a plow.

Respect the stopping distance

Part of the danger from driving in winter weather is the unpredictable nature that changing conditions can have on a vehicle. Where most can get away with following to close on the road in dry circumstances, the rule book is thrown out in winter weather.

It can take up to 10 times as long to stop a vehicle driving on ice compared to pavement. The MIOHSP advises drivers on the road leave 600 feet of available space to brake when traveling on ice.

Photo via Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning

On roads packed with snow, about 180 feet will do.

Bridges freeze first

Any driver has seen the sign: Bridge ices before road.

The temperature discrepancy between roads that sit on the ground and elevated bridges can be enough to make conditions go from good to bad really fast.

The National Weather Service says a lack of insulation and underground soil can keep roads warm enough while causing bridges to freeze. This dynamic is on display right when the air temperature dips below freezing. Any water on the bridge will turn to ice soon after.

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Hopefully that ice is visible, but there are occasions when it's not.

Beware black Ice

Sometimes it's the obstacles one can't see that are the most dangerous. Black ice presents one of the most obvious dangers to winter drivers and walkers since it's invisible to the naked eye.

The only reason it's called black ice is because it often takes the shade of the road - which is usually black. But make no mistake, this material is clear.

It often forms just around the freezing point, when the heat of tires on the road mixes with rain and snow that's already fallen. The U.S. Forest Service says it typically forms at night or in the early morning when temperatures are at their lowest and the sun isn't around to heat things up.

It's also typical to see on bridges and overpasses since those are the first surfaces to freeze.

Despite being invisible, black ice does take on a glossy sheen and is very smooth. With enough light, it can be seen.

Drivers should avoid the brakes if they notice they've lost control on ice as this will cause the car to skid. Drivers should also aim for areas of traction like snow-covered areas.

Skidding in the snow

For Michigan drivers, it's inevitable they'll skid at least once. It might prompt a feeling of uneasiness or loss of control when the car isn't responding to the pedals or steering wheel.

Car And Driver Magazine says one of the best tools to correct a skid is to keep looking where someone is supposed to go. "If you feel your car beginning to skid, always, always, look where you want to go—not where the car is heading at that precise moment."

Crashes can come from drivers overcorrecting or overcompensating for the lack of control they have during a skid. But staying calm and maintaining the direction you want to go can be key to staying safe.

After staying calm, the next step is don't touch the brakes. Instead, let off the gas if the front tires lose grip, allowing for the vehicle to regain traction. If the rear tires lose traction and vehicle feels like it's spinning out, Car and Driver says to "quickly turn the steering wheel in the same direction" that the rear is sliding.

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Always have sand

But what if the traction was lost, the skid happened, and the spinout has left a vehicle stuck? A tow truck may be the best option since getting out of a spot a vehicle is stuck in can be even tougher than getting in it since the same conditions are swirling around.

Sand or cat litter can be a source of traction when there is little else to use.

Drivers should consider having some in the back of the vehicle. When stuck, just apply around the tires for some extra traction when accelerating out of a bank. Make sure to do it slow.

Sand shouldn't be the only item stored in a vehicle. Things like blankets, first aid kits, and a flashlight can be lifesavers as well.

Check out FOX 2's tips for preparing a vehicle for a storm here.