by JAMIE PARSELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
NEW YORK (AP) —
It hangs over the mountains like a curtain, shielding the eyes from the tops of the trees. It is eerie and silent, beautiful and hazy but extremely dangerous. Fog, a collection of liquid water droplets or ice crystals, suspends in the air above the ground. As beautiful as it looks, it hinders visibility, making driving a hazard on our curvy roadways. As I drove up my hill, Wednesday’s early morning fog hovered in the air. I could still see the cars lining the streets and the rows of homes on both side. But at the top of the hill, the mist of fog was heavy, thick and pure white. I couldn’t see the fences that lined the field, or the sharp turn that lead back down the hill. Out of habit, I knew to turn at the right moment. A person unfamiliar with the neighborhood might have missed the turn.
Fog is never a friend. It is deceiving, manipulating in how it coaxes murmurs of beauty, but whispers danger to the motorist. I learned to drive on back country roads, Route 460, small towns, big cities, Interstate 77, through the East River tunnel and down to the Carolinas. My dad would let me drive in different situations — snow, rain, ice and wind. He wanted to make sure I could handle the weather no matter what the season. During the summertime, right before I turned 17, we drove south. Along the way, he told me about Fancy Gap, along the North Carolina border. It is a 10-mile stretch that climbs 1,500 to 2,000 feet. Vehicles travel faster in the southbound lanes; the traffic in northbound lanes is better, the climbing hill slows the tractor trailers down a lot more. A meteorologist from the National Weather Service office in Blacksburg said the Blue Ridge line is typically southwest-northeast. But it is more of a east-west line in the Fancy Gap area. When moist south or southwest wind from the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico hits the mountain range, it forms a dense dog. When the wind is strong out of the south, it creates a tunnel effect on Interstate 77. On that particular day, sometime in my 16th year, Fancy Gap was crystal clear, an spectacular scenic wonder of shades of blue and green.
However, it wasn’t a few years later. A family member won extra tickets to a country music concert at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. A friend and I made the trip. On the way home, we hit fog around midnight near the North Carolina-Virginia border. I could barely see the cars ahead. The red brake lights disappeared into the white world of Fancy Gap. I reduced my speed and turned the radio off. It was silent in the car. Neither one of us spoke until the car reached the top of the mountain and out of the fog. I remember letting out a deep sigh of relief. Others have not been so lucky. On Easter Sunday, six months ago, 95 drivers crashed in the southbound lane of Interstate 77 near Fancy Gap. Three people were killed. In the last 15 years, officials have reported eight similar crashes on that stretch of interstate. My dad was right to warn me about Fancy Gap.
Slow down, reduce the high beams to low, do not stop, don’t pass, turn off the radio so you can hear other traffic. Those are just some of the tips for driving in the fog. Few have the patience. It is like driving in snow; either they go too fast or too slow. Most West Virginians respect snow. We also need to respect the other aspects of mother nature. Rain, ice, wind, wet leaves — all are hazards on the road. But perhaps the most deceiving is fog. Maybe you don’t drive south, never even been to Fancy Gap. I only encounter the area once or twice a year. Yet, the lesson serves well in other areas of home, from the country roads covered in a heavy mist to the route to work in all white. New studies, even by Virginia Tech, are being conducted in the Fancy Gap area. One came out this week. New technology will be able to guide motorists in the fog. It is about time.
Jamie Parsell is the Lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BDTParsell.