Impaired Vision on the Road

Dust storms recently shut down I90 in Eastern Washington, near Moses Lake.  It looks like the road is now open.

MOSES LAKE, Wash. -- Strong winds that had whipped up dust and caused poor visibility in Eastern Washington have subsided, allowing authorities to reopen Interstate 90 between Moses Lake and Ritzville.

Periodically, we hear about these conditions and the resulting 50+ car pile ups.  They've been known to happen on I-84 in northern Oregon, and in central California.  You get too much dust with too much wind, or you get too much fog, combined with people traveling too fast, following too closely, or just rounding a corner and suddenly encountering blinding conditions on the road and its a recipe for mayhem and insurance claims.

In my travels I've enoucountered some challenging conditions, but the worst was in the '93 or '94.  I was at the end of a long drive from New York to Helena, MT.  That last day I got my first taste of truly blinding rain near Gillette, WY.  The rain came down so hard, intense, and fast, that I could see only a few feet in front of the car. All I could do was slow to a crawl while the monster sized drops pounded the roof of my Subaru GL and look for a place to pull over.

The problem is you can't just stop, because you will get hit from behind.  And you can't really go on because of the danger.  So all I could do was crawl forward, try to follow the tail lights on the semi's in front of me, hope they don't screw up, and sneak down an exit to wait.  Fifteen minutes later, it was all clear, and I continued on my way.

I encountered the same type of rain in the mountains east of Bozeman, MT later that day, and again, followed a slow moving semi, watched the 10' of roadway lane marking, and eventually ended up in a rest stop (I think) until the rain again let up.

The amazing thing to me is that people kept going.  This wasn't the type of rain you can deal with by turning on the wipers; the blindness wasn't caused by an opaque windshield -- it was an opaque atmosphere in front over every vehicle. 

And yet people zipped on by. 

I know it makes me sound old to complain about the maniacs flooring it on the freeway, but this was genuinely scary blinding rain.  And that was back when I was younger and making decisions I might not make today.  And I still had the sense to get off the road.

I guess the points I take aware are:

  1. Dust of the Interstate sucks.
  2. Fog on the Interstate sucks.
  3. Waterfalls of rain blocking everyone's view on the Interstate suck.
  4. If you can't see more than 10', what they hell are you doing driving 30-60 mph?
  5. Rain is loud.

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