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Hot Shots: Whiteouts, floods, icy roads and more

Highlighting images in transportation, trucking and weather

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Every Friday, FreightWaves takes a look at the past week or so in social media, highlighting images in trucking, transportation and weather. This week features zero visibility during Northeast snowstorms, a flooded interstate in Washington state, a truck accident on an icy Northwest mountain road and more.

Wicked whiteouts

Heavy lake-effect snow slammed parts of the interior Northeast earlier this week. Persistent cold air flowing over the relatively warm waters of lakes Erie and Ontario helped the snow quickly pile up, mainly in upstate New York. The highest amounts, 11 to 18 inches, buried parts of Lewis County.

Winds were very gusty, resulting in periods of whiteout conditions. Blowing and drifting snow produced zero to near-zero visibility, especially in the Tug Hill region, which is east of Lake Ontario, north of Oneida Lake and west of the Adirondack Mountains.

Water, water everywhere

Mother Nature hasn’t been kind to the Pacific Northwest the past few months. Parts of the region were devastated by flooding rain, especially from mid-November into early December. The floods caused landslides and road closures, mostly from northern Washington to British Columbia, Canada.

Related: Historic floods ‘hammered’ British Columbia’s trucking industry

Additional rounds of heavy rain have drenched the area since last weekend, with places like Hoquiam and Quillayute receiving 4.5 to 7 inches. High water has blocked many local and state roads at times, as well as some of Interstate 5 in Chehalis, Washington. This is where the Chehalis and Newaukum rivers meet, about 30 miles south of Olympia. The next batch of rain should hold off until Sunday or Monday.

Ice isn’t always so nice

One of the storms that waterlogged the Northwest produced even more dangerous weather in the mountains. Parts of the Cascades in western Washington were hit with freezing rain that iced over some roads.

Freezing rain falls as liquid in the lower atmosphere, then freezes on contact with surfaces that are at or below 32 degrees. This happens when a warm layer of air develops above a freezing layer at the ground. When temperatures increase through a layer of the atmosphere, as in this case, it’s called an “inversion.”


It got so cold at the Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire earlier this week that an employee there had a hard time eating breakfast. Sunrise temperatures Tuesday hovered around 30 degrees below zero. This froze the employee’s leftover spaghetti almost instantly.

According to National Weather Service records, the official low that morning was 31 degrees below zero, which was also the coldest low on record that day for the entire continental U.S.

Beauty shot

This week’s beauty shot features a gorgeous lenticular cloud above the Beartooth Mountains in southern Montana. These clouds, which look like lenses or flying saucers, typically form where stable moist air flows over a mountain or a range of mountains. When this happens, a series of large-scale standing waves may form on the mountain’s downwind side.

If the temperature at the crest of the wave drops to the dew point, moisture in the air may condense to form lenticular clouds. As the moist air moves back down into the trough of the wave, the cloud may evaporate back into vapor. So lenticular clouds can appear and disappear relatively quickly.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.