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What every Minnesota driver should know about black ice

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It's a little like carbon monoxide: You can't see it, can't smell it, can't taste it, but when it sneaks up on you, the results can be deadly.

Black ice is perhaps the most dreaded killer on wintry Minnesota roads. It's more dangerous than snow or slush. Despite its ominous sound, however, it's the subject of many misconceptions. Here's what every driver should know to stay safe in black-ice conditions.

What is it, exactly?

There's ice, and then there's black ice. The term refers to a thin layer of ice coating the roadway. It blends in with the dark pavement, making it virtually invisible.

How it forms

Black ice can form in two types of conditions:

  • Temps right around freezing (32 F): When the air is warmer than the pavement, light rain or drizzle can freeze on the roadway's surface, forming thin honeycombs of ice.
  • Sub-zero temps: In extreme cold, exhaust from vehicles can condense on the roadway and freeze in thin sheets. To make matters worse, salt isn't effective at melting ice in these conditions.

Bridges and overpasses are particularly susceptible to black-ice formation due to additional air circulation on the pavement surface.

How to handle it

Whenever the conditions are ripe for black ice, you should drive with extreme caution (or stay off the roads if you can). This means slowing down - especially on bridges and overpasses. Leave plenty of stopping space between vehicles. Finally, if you do hit ice, avoid hard braking, and know how to maneuver out of a fishtail to stay straight.

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