Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Greg Jordan

November 28, 2013

Wintry weather can bring treacherous travel, but seeing family worth it

— — It is Tuesday afternoon and I’m anxiously listening to the rain hitting the Daily Telegraph’s roof. New reporter Ann Elgin just said she heard that 12 inches of snow is possible at Flat Top. Normally, weather reports don’t give me anxiety, but these reports are deciding what I’m going to do the day before Thanksgiving. I don’t have a huge drive since I’m going to my parents’ home in Fayette County, but my sister, Karen, and my nephews A.J. and Alex might be driving up from Charlotte. All the reports I’m hearing promise snow and ice along Interstate 77; in fact, the winter storm advisory was upgraded to a winter storm warning by Tuesday afternoon. I think my blood pressure just went up a bit.

Well, we’ve reached an agreement already. If travel conditions become too hair raising for a safe trip, we will celebrate Thanksgiving on Saturday. There is no law that says we can’t enjoy fellowship and turkey only on Thanksgiving. That’s what refrigerators are for. Turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie taste just as good on the second day.

Sometimes I’m amazed by how much worry and stress come with the holidays. I start my Christmas shopping early so I don’t have to spend all that money at one time or stress out about finding the right gifts. A stack of unwrapped presents are waiting for attention, so that’s out of the way. My biggest worry is travel. My second-biggest worry is getting all of these presents wrapped and delivered without breaking anything. The last thing I want is to have presents that rattle when they’re not supposed to rattle. Broken presents become more likely if I have to travel over a rough road.

Weather becomes a hassle, and we have to work out a schedule in advance so somebody will be at the newspaper. Then I check out the road conditions and wonder when I should embark on my journey north; then I will decide whether to delay my journey and for how long I should wait. I always pray we won’t get smacked with a big storm just in time for the travel season. The highway traffic alone is enough of a challenge without worrying about slick roads, too. I’ve been in one nasty spin out, and I don’t want that to happen again.

I had this life-flash-before-your-eyes event years ago when I was traveling south to visit Karen’s home in Charlotte. I had reached Wytheville, Va., just in time for a layer of slick, wet snow to cover the highway. Frankly, I was going too fast, but traffic was close and I couldn’t slow down. After a couple of minutes, I decided to pull off and wait for the snow plows.

This decision came too late. I spun out, cut across three lanes of  traffic, and ended up in a ditch. Amazingly enough, my car stayed upright and I wasn’t hurt at all. I sat there for several minutes, wondering how I was still alive. My car had stalled out, but it started again without any trouble and I actually managed to get it back on the highway. I stopped at a restaurant, called my family, and told them I had to go back. My car was making funny sounds already.

I get this tense, edgy feeling now whenever I have to drive on ice and snow. At any moment I expect to feel that terrible sensation of losing control. It’s an unpleasant floating feeling I don’t want to experience again.

However, I will brave winter conditions if I have to travel. My dad taught me a lot about winter driving that has served me well, but that doesn’t mean I love a good run over ice and slush. Karen and the boys always want to see a white Christmas. They see snowball fights and sleigh rides when snow falls from the sky. I see jackknifed tractor-trailers and stranded cars. I see slowly driving over ice so I won’t go into another spin and end up who knows where.

Despite all the winter driving hassle, I tell myself that getting together with my family for Thanksgiving and Christmas is worth the effort. I’ve braved the conditions for years and I’ll brave them again with everyone else.

I also tell myself that the pressure and the schedule juggling is worth the effort, too, when we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner or get up on Christmas morning. Then we get our reward for enduring all the stress associated with shopping, cooking and traveling. Maybe everything won’t be perfect, but we should be glad that we have anything at all. Not every Christmas or Thanksgiving is going to be like the ones we see on television and in the movies.

Maybe the weather won’t be quite a bad as predicted. Road crews in both West Virginia and Virginia are ready to deal with snow and ice, so we should be OK if we slow down and leave plenty of space between vehicles. Many of the accidents I cover are caused by speed that was too high for the present conditions. When snow is falling, you can’t drive as fast as you usually do. I know we all want to get where we’re going on time, but sometimes we have to arrive late. It’s much better than having a crash and recalling how you spent one Thanksgiving in the hospital.

With some foresight and caution, everyone should have a nice Thanksgiving this year with plenty of turkey and no highway headaches. We don’t know yet what the weather will be like when Christmas approaches, so let’s handle one holiday at a time.

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.

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