Blizzard Road Trip
February 7, 2013 7:06 PM   Subscribe

Is driving from southern Massachusetts to central Maine tomorrow an extremely bad idea? What is the latest time I can safely set out on my journey? (Note that I don't have four wheel drive or a death wish). Will all that snow be cleared away for an easy return on Sunday?
posted by murfed13 to Travel & Transportation (31 answers total)
It sure seems like it. Once snow starts falling at a rate of over an inch an hour, bad things start happening on the roads.
posted by gjc at 7:09 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Snow would be cleared by Sunday. From the current forecast, as long as you do all your driving before 12 noon tomorrow it shouldn't be too bad.
posted by Melismata at 7:11 PM on February 7, 2013

Stay put - not worth it!
posted by leslies at 7:11 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can see the hourly forecast (that's for Boston) on I wouldn't do it, with that forecast, unless you can get where you need to be by noon.
posted by something something at 7:15 PM on February 7, 2013

Is driving from southern Massachusetts to central Maine tomorrow an extremely bad idea?

If you leave very early you may be able to sneak in.

What is the latest time I can safely set out on my journey?

Most signs point to any time after 2pm will be a bad time to be on the road.

Will all that snow be cleared away for an easy return on Sunday?

Hard to say, but the best meteorologist (IMO) in Mass thinks that with all of this hype that cleanup will be quicker than usual. His Twitter feed is a great place to get the scoop.
posted by jeremias at 7:29 PM on February 7, 2013

Here's the National Weather Service travel advisory for areas under the blizzard warning (you'll have to forgive the allcaps as that's a leftover from teletype days):

posted by plastic_animals at 7:31 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

You know what a white out is? Stay put
posted by captainmickey at 7:34 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is driving from southern Massachusetts to central Maine tomorrow an extremely bad idea? What is the latest time I can safely set out on my journey? (Note that I don't have four wheel drive or a death wish). Will all that snow be cleared away for an easy return on Sunday?

I don't know how quickly they clear the roads in maine, but my car was stuck for 3 days the last time DC had 2 feet of snow.
posted by empath at 7:36 PM on February 7, 2013

If you leave in the early morning, you might be fine. Like, 7 am.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:37 PM on February 7, 2013

A very, very bad idea after early morning.

"Travel may become nearly impossible with blowing/drifting snow and near zero visibility during the height of the storm (Friday afternoon into Saturday morning). Motorists are asked to stay off the roads if they can during the storm to allow snow plows to clear the roads." Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency

posted by quodlibet at 7:38 PM on February 7, 2013

Count on nothing when snow and the Mass Pike (or 495, 128, 93, etc.) are both involved. I would not chance it...even tonight, with the weather fine, traffic on the Pike, 495, 95 and 93 remained thick far later than usual. I expect it to remain a bit crazy tomorrow morning.

Which is why I am hunkering down here at the MA/CT border till I see the all clear on the internets.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:41 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Depends how far up in Maine, how willing you are to pull off and stay at a motel if conditions get bad, and whether you'd be going along a route that has motels pretty frequently. Personally, I'd go for it if you can leave first thing in the morning and be there by noon. It looks like you'd be traveling ahead of the storm.
posted by songs about trains at 7:41 PM on February 7, 2013

Portland's current forecast is a 40% chance of snow after 2 am and a total of only 2-4 inches during the day on Friday. Things up here likely won't pick up until the early evening, with very heavy snowfall late in the day on Friday. I am mostly expecting that Portland schools will be in session tomorrow.

I would say leave very early, and be willing to make the call at the last minute. If you can get to your destination around noon you'll be fine, provided you have experience driving in 'regular' new England winters.
posted by anastasiav at 7:41 PM on February 7, 2013

If you're going to do it, leave by 6 or 7 AM; as a bonus, maybe you'll miss the worst of the Boston rush-hour traffic as well. (I'm assuming something like New Bedford to Bangor, which Google Maps puts at 4 3/4 hours.) I wouldn't do it if your destination requires significant driving on anything other than an interstate or U.S. highway; two-lane state or county roads may not get plowed by Sunday. I also wouldn't do it if you're not willing (or don't have the wherewithal) to end up spending the weekend in a motel room near Portsmouth instead of at your destination.

Really, unless this trip is a one-time-only opportunity like a friend's wedding or a dream job interview, I don't think it would be worth the stress.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:45 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

As others have said, I might try it ONLY if you leave really really early. You don't specify where you are leaving from exactly. If by southern Mass you mean SE Mass then you will need to get through Boston--and that means rush hour. Lets assume you are 1 hour south of Boston, if you leave at 7 AM you will crawling through Boston rush hour at around 8 AM. And it will likely be snowing lightly at that point in time. But once you get north of Boston, you should be OK because the storm will be chasing you from the south. But again, earlier is way better. You should not have any problem driving back on Sunday---which will be a pleasant sunny winter day.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 7:50 PM on February 7, 2013

No one can know exactly what the conditions will be when, so you need to make the call yourself. If I were you, I'd get up as early as I can and get going, have plenty of snacks and drinks in the car to minimize stopping, and be totally ready to pull off and get a motel room if it starts to get slidey out there. Cause it's not worth your life. To make all that easier, charge up your phone, bring a good amount of cash, and be sure you have enough changes of clothes and toiletries and whatever. It's just going to be one of those it's-fine-until-it-isn't kind of days, and you could get there while it's fine, or you could find you want to get off the road sooner than that.

IF it's as insane as it sounds it could be, and you did have to stop overnight, and it took a long time clear roadways on Saturday, and it was hard to find open gas stations, and you got where you're going late Saturday afternoon and had to turn around and return the next morning, would it still be worth going? If yes, I'd be inclined to try. If no, I'd postpone.
posted by Miko at 8:43 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

If at all possible, I suggest leaving now (but I'm a night owl and wide awake at this hour). I live in New England and have to drive to work no matter what the weather is, so I drive in blizzards. Surprisingly, despite the fact that the other people on the roads presumably also live in New England, they still are terrible at driving in the snow (I see them texting while driving, they go far too fast for conditions, tailgate in the snow, etc)

Just remember, once the snow starts falling, stay as far away from other vehicles you can, go at a slow and controlled pace, stay in the clearest lane of the highway.

If you have to leave in the afternoon, just don't go, it is absolutely not worth it. It will be terrifying, with people fishtailing all over the road, and there will be huge traffic jams around accidents, if you are lucky enough not to be in the accident yourself.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:48 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Person in Maine here. If you want to make it, I would start now. Maine has a "government doesn't owe you anything" governor now and the state is really terrible about plowing roads these days.

Be prepared to be stuck there for a couple days- and the power might go out. My town lost power during a windstorm last week and the power company didn't get to it for 28 hours.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:18 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a midwesterner who's jealous of all the snow y'all are getting, and who drove a souped up Impala for five years in the snow. Every time we get enough to cover the sidewalk, I go do donuts in every parking lot I can find.

I would not do this trip in this storm.
posted by notsnot at 9:27 PM on February 7, 2013

It's not just your own winter driving skills that you need to be worried about here - you also need to be concerned about other people and their inability to judge when the weather conditions are more than they can handle. I'd stay home.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 9:39 PM on February 7, 2013

Do you have snow tires??

As a former New Yorker with extensive driving experience in ALL New England states during inclimate weather at all times of year, when I read your question, I thought to myself....

"Are you high?"

Which isn't to be mean! I've been caught in white outs in Southern States during the winter, by accident, and I would not want to share the roads with semi's trying to beat the storm in Northern States on purpose.

Leave super early if you must. I can't guarantee return because we don't know yet what the storms will do. Big roads will be fine if the snow has stopped.

Stay safe. If you don't have chains or snow tires, don't go. Really, it's this simple.
posted by jbenben at 10:02 PM on February 7, 2013

I dunno - maybe growing up in the northern midwaste made me not fear this sort of thing, but 2 feet of snow was what we called any given Tuesday when I was a kid.

Bring cold weather gear - spare boots and and hat and whatnot. Pack a blanket and some extra food and water and socks. Bring something to dig with. Then head out. Most likely, the main roads will be passable if slightly treacherous. Things will get crazier the less traveled the road is, but depending might not be that bad.

If it gets too bad, pull off and hang out somewhere - maybe stay the night. If you get stuck on the road, maybe try to dig out - but don't leave the car - that's heat and shelter. If you are on a main highway, you wont be stranded for long. Hours - at most a day - not weeks.

The storm that is coming aint nothing. But I've camped in that sort of weather, too. If you're prepared and not stupid you'll be fine.

If you aren't comfortable or whatever, its fine. Stay home. There's no shame in it. But I wouldn't hesitate to take that trip.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:20 PM on February 7, 2013

Could you make it if the storm is as bad as it could be with a four wheel drive and no one else on those roads? Maybe. But many, many people will ignore the warnings and head out anyway, and that will cluster the fuck as it were, so unless you have 4wd and a good plan stay put. Congestion will only make it harder to clear the roads when this blows through, and that might be Saturday.

Or it could wobble out to sea.
posted by vrakatar at 11:15 PM on February 7, 2013

Check this out.
posted by vrakatar at 11:18 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't forget that lots of other people will also be out on the roads earlier than is usual for Friday morning's rush hour, so only leaving an hour or two earlier will just put you smack in the middle of them: EVERYBODY is going to try to beat the rush. And all the weather reports are tossing around terms like "historic storm," and possible depths of 31" in the Boston area. My guess is that even if you make it safely to Maine, this is NOT going to be all cleared up by Sunday: main roadways MIGHT be driveable, but not all the secondaries --- and that's where you'll need to drive into to park back at home, right?
posted by easily confused at 2:48 AM on February 8, 2013

I live in New England and have to drive to work no matter what the weather is, so I drive in blizzards. Surprisingly, despite the fact that the other people on the roads presumably also live in New England, they still are terrible at driving in the snow (I see them texting while driving, they go far too fast for conditions, tailgate in the snow, etc)

I have also had to drive in my fair share of completely unplowed roads, and my experience and advice is this:

1- Don't make the trip unless you HAVE to. If you HAVE to, you should have left already.

2- Full tank of gas, supplies, blankets, gloves, etc. Prepare to be able to live in your car stuck in a snowdrift for 24 hours. If that seems unfathomable, then you don't really HAVE to make the trip. Also, bring a shovel.

3- The trick to snow driving is to maintain a balance between speed and safety. If you go too slow, you'll get stuck constantly. If you go too fast, you will have too much momentum to be able to stop. The best speed matches the conditions such that you have enough momentum to carry you through the snow, but that if you take your foot off the gas, you will slow down fast enough to not go flying off the road. Driving in the snow is kind of like driving a boat or a plane. You can't depend on brakes, so you have to aim and vector with just the throttle.

4- Also, pull everything you can out of the trunk and put it into the back seat. You want the center of mass to be between the wheels. Having all your supplies in the trunk makes the rear of your car want to pull you around turns. It also means it is inaccessible if you can't open your doors.

5- Under-car clearance is an issue. You can do all of the stuff above, but if you get into an area of snow that is higher than the underside of your car, you are going to get beached. This depends on the kind of snow that's out there. Denser snow is actually better, because your car can ride on top of it to some extent. So once you start feeling the front bumper of the car getting caught up, it's time to give up and find a hotel.

6- If you get stuck, you need to figure out where the obstruction is and clear that. Lots of people make the mistake of clearing the snow under the wheels, which makes things worse. Or clearing the snow in front of the tires, so that once you move 6 inches forward, you end up being even more stuck. Now you have a car that is perched/wedged on a snowdrift and the wheels have no traction at all. So when you get stuck, clear the underneath of the car first.
posted by gjc at 5:08 AM on February 8, 2013

Well if you haven't left already, don't leave now. Snow piling up here in Maine a lot earlier than predicted. Lots of cars sliding off the highway and a 19-car accident on 295 near Falmouth.
posted by mikepop at 6:05 AM on February 8, 2013

Posting from the Boston area at 11:06 am. Unless you're talking life or death emergency, DON'T GO NOW.

I can see the insanity on Rt. 95 from my window. Please stay home.
posted by kinetic at 8:06 AM on February 8, 2013

One of the things I often find useful when I have to drive in snow is to use 2nd gear (even on an automatic you have this choice). When conditions require, it can help you maintain that sweet spot gjc mentions - it limits your top speed, giving you more control even when it's slick, but keeps you moving forward steadily.
posted by Miko at 8:09 AM on February 8, 2013

Are you going skiing? For most other activities, I'd say Stay Home. But snow = skiing = driving to Sugarloaf, or did when my ski-crazy kid was still home. If you drive, put a sleeping bag, flashlight, extra warm clothes, extra gloves/ hat/ scarf/ warm socks, food, water, emergency kit* & 1st aid kit in the car, and be prepared to spend the night in the car if you get stranded. Don't over-inflate your tires, they grip best at their ideal inflation, and keep the gas tank full.

emergency kit: maps, whistle, tea lights & tea light holder (a tuna can will do), matches, lighter, blankets, chocolate bar, candy (I get candy I don't love, so I'm not tempted to raid the stash), granola bars, mobile phone & charger (got an old mobile? keep it in the car, on the charger - emergency calls are always free. Get a cheap tracfone if necessary), pocket knife or, better, multi-purpose tool, red bandanna or other emergency flag, shovel, jumper cables, traction mats, rope for towing/being towed.

1st aid kit: tums, aspirin/ tylenol/ ibuprofen, etc., bandaids, wet wipes, alcohol wipes. A spare transparent water bottle, or empty plastic peanut butter jar is a great 1st aid or emergency kit container.

If you are stranded, run the car for 15 minutes every hour or 2 to warm up. Clear the area behind the tailpipe of snow and crack a window slightly. If you are stranded, stay with the car.
posted by theora55 at 8:44 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

From Vehicles ordered off roads after 4 P.M.. Governor Deval Patrick has declared a state of emergency across Massachusetts, and will ban non-emergency vehicles from roadways after 4:00 pm.
posted by Majorita at 10:08 AM on February 8, 2013

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