Leaves Are a Hidden Danger With Wild, Weird, Weather

The winter looks like it’s started a little early in parts of the world, doesn’t it? The entire East Coast of the United States, which was lashed by tropical weather less than half-a-year ago – tropical weather can continue into winter, believe it or not – is now being lashed by winter weather, very, very early.

It seems like the global warming pessimists may be having their field day, but who knows why it is happening? Even the meteorological community is split on the WHY of it – El Nino, La Nina, Aunt Matilda’s maiden cat – no one knows.

What we do know is this: with the earlier winter weather comes the need to drive more sanely than ever before. Why would this be true? To answer the question, you only need to look at the foliage still on the trees, the amount of wet weather than has soaked the area above 30-degrees north and the still soggy earth.

Trees that have normally stood for hundreds – yes hundreds – of years are rotting out. Just the other day, the arborists came along and took down a massive Aspen pine outside the house that was nearly 100-feet tall. Some thought the wood company was going to make a killing on the board into which the logs could be cut as the trunk was straight and knot-free, but after the crane and arborist crew took the tree down, they found the very heartwood of the tree rotting out. You can’t even use that would for much more than mulch. The tree, by the way, was somewhere over 160 years old – that’s where the rings stopped in the rotten heartwood and couldn’t be counted further — so Nature is exacting her toll on us for abusing the environment.

So, what on earth, you may be asking does all this side matter have to do with road safety? It’s simply this with the soil soggy to the point of saturation, huge trees just snapping from the weight of the foliage that is still on them and, when you add two feet of snow, or even six inches, you have potential road hazards until the trees are cut back.

If they’re not cut back then they’ll fall and we’ll have more instances where trees fall on cars, hopefully, parked — so no one is hurt. Of equal note, though, is that those leaves have to fall somewhere and they are rapidly heading earthward onto roadways, piling up at intersections and corners and leaving huge piles all over the place.
This places a driver at double risk:

1. You sometimes have leaf piles so hard you have to edge into traffic to see if anyone is oncoming on some narrow roads
2. The leaves, themselves, are as hazardous as if you are driving on snow.

The hazard that piled up frozen or near frozen leaves is this: even if they ground rewarms, there are so many layers of leaves down now that the bottommost are likely to remain frozen or, at least, in a state of almost permafrost. So, the average driver is facing a double whammy:

1. Slippery leaves at a corner or on curves
2. Frozen leaves you can’t even see

Each part of this particular problem is quite serious.

In the first scenario, picture a pile of leaves – some of which may have dried and which look perfectly normal and you think stopping should be easy. Wait, stop, halt, and don’t think that!!

Those leaves represent a hidden danger as the top leaves may be fine and they are the leaves your car tire tread will try to, and usually succeed, in grabbing. But, lying just below those nice dry-looking leaves are layer upon layer of wet leaves, and, quite possibly, on the bottom a layer of semi-frozen leaves – even on a 50-degree day – these are the leaves to watch out for (and you can’t see them, you have to assume they are there, unless you rake the area and turn them over). How can we say this with certainty? It’s a certainty born of years of driving above 30-north.

The leaves that are lying on the road surface act as their own lubricants. In other words, your tires may grab the top layers very nicely. The only problem is that the bottom layers are wet and slide over one another just the way snow slides and, if the very bottom is semi-frozen, you have a built-in skating ring that can send your car into a skid.
How do you handle this situation? The best advice is:

• Slow down
• Assume all leave piles are soggy and wet
• Treat leaves with the respect you treat ice

If you take these actions, you’ll be fine.

How does it work? It’s obvious, but we’ll spell it out:

• As you approach an intersection (or pile of leaves) slow down
• Assume the leaves will be soggy, even if they look dry
• Assume that if you hit the brakes hard, your tires will lock on the top layers and the bottom layers will slide across one another like oiled bearings
• Assume that your vehicle should be slowing to a stop well before the pile of leaves at the corner forces your car into a skid
• Use your brakes lightly and assume that everything is not as it seems; light pressure and low speed will keep you safe
• Ask your town’s tree department to get any piles that interfere with your sightline cleaned up as quickly as possible and, if they don’t have the manpower, given all of the work they have to do right now, take it on yourself to get some neighbors and clear any piles of leaves or even patches. In this way, you can help to take responsibility for your own driving safety.