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Uncommon Freezing Rain Results in Numerous Crashes and Highway Closure


This is a picture of tire tracks through the ice and snow

Uncommon Freezing Rain Results in Numerous Crashes and Highway Closure


Last Thursday, a freezing rain storm caused multiple accidents throughout the state.  As reported by the Billings Gazette, at least one highway (Montana Highway 3 from Harlowton to Garneil) was closed in south-central Montana.  The freeway was closed because according to Montana Highway Patrol Sgt. Scott Ayers, “There [was] ice everywhere, and people just [weren’t] slowing down.”  The Gazette article goes on to identify a six-car pileup involving four separate crashes on I-90 in the Billings area.  According to the report, no one was injured.  The accident was caused when a car skidded into a guardrail in front of a semi-truck.  This event produced a domino effect which resulted in six cars colliding including a pickup truck, garbage truck, and other vehicles.  

At other locations in Billings, other crashes caused stalls in traffic and road closures.  The Gazette identifies the reasons for the rain as a low-lying mass of Arctic air which was pushed toward Montana because of a warmer system from the south.  This analysis comes from NWS meteorologist Wright Dobbs of the National Weather Service.  Freezing rain is simply rain precipitation that makes contact with a surface that is below freezing, causing the moisture itself to freeze.  Further, according to, some of the most disastrous winter storms are attributed to freezing rain.  

Freezing rain is very infrequent in Montana and other parts of the West.  Typically, freezing rain plagues the midwest and other regions east of the Rocky Mountains.  Because of the unusual nature of freezing rain, many drivers are unaccustomed to driving in it.  Essentially, what happens is the rain forms a sheet of black ice over cold surfaces like the road.  It is crucial to be safe when driving in freezing rain.  Unfortunately, this layer of ice cannot be plowed off.  Salt and sand can be effective. However, these remedies do not entirely remove the problem.  When this happens, your only recourse is to drive as safely as possible.   

Many of the tips that we could give regarding driving during freezing rain do not differ significantly from simple winter driving tips.  Like Highway Patrol Sgt. Ayers mentioned, it is essential to merely slow down.  The tips provided in this article are meant to help you be safe and should be adapted to meet your personal circumstances.  

  • Only drive when you are alert.  Too many accidents are reported each year because people were just not ready to drive.  When you are driving, you are forced to react to the smallest stimuli.  For example, if the cars in front of you suddenly slow down, you will need to be sharp enough to respond.
  • Avoid the trip altogether.  Indeed, this tip cannot apply to everyone.  Not all of us have the luxury of waiting out the storm.  However, if you can postpone a drive to a particular location, do so.  You won’t have to brave the hazardous conditions at all.
  • Take it slow!  If you are driving in freezing rain, you will want to take it as slow as to not slide.
  • Avoid coming to an abrupt stop.  Each time you bring your car to a stop, you risk sliding.  When you come to a complete stop, you have to halt all the inertia that is moving your car forward.  If possible, try to drive slow enough that you can keep moving forward without endangering others.  

We have previously posted articles to aid in your winter driving.  Many of these same tips will help you stay safe when driving in freezing rain.  Remember, if you have been the victim of an accident due to winter weather conditions, contact The Advocates Law.  Having a good personal injury attorney in Montana can help you understand your rights and what you should do next.



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