Have you ever found yourself sliding on black ice? Well, how exactly did it form, and what can you do to prepare yourself for those slick situations?


What You Need To Know

  • Black ice is not black

  • It is a thin layer of transparent ice

  • It is dangerous to both drivers and pedestrians

Black ice is a thin layer of ice that can coat sidewalks, roadways, and parking lots. It is transparent and hard to see, making it very dangerous.

It only appears black because it is a clear coating of ice over asphalt. The name is a little misleading since it can also form on other surfaces such as sidewalks, making it dangerous for everyone.

How Does Black Ice Form?

Melted snow on sidewalks and roads can refreeze and become black ice. Courtesy: AP/Elise Amendola

Black ice can form in many ways.

Rain: Rain showers can leave pavement wet for hours. If cold temperatures settle in, the wet pavement can freeze over and form a thin layer of ice.

Snow: Warm temperatures cause snow to melt during the day, but when temperatures drop for the overnight hours, this melted snow can refreeze and form sheets of ice on roads and sidewalks.

Fog: In cold temperatures, the moisture from fog can freeze on roads and sidewalks creating icy conditions.

Tires: Black ice can even form from car tires in frigid conditions. Car tires heat the snow on the road, and the cold temperatures can refreeze the liquid and form ice.

You should also expect black ice to:

  • Form during the overnight and early morning hours
  • Form on roads that do not see a lot of sunshine
  • Form on bridges because cold air can cool the top and underside of a bridge and cause freezing to occur more quickly

Prepare for Black Ice

A car being pulled from a ditch after sliding from icy conditions. Courtesy: AP/Ron Ennis

Black ice is hard to spot, but there are a few actions you can take to better prepare.

  • Keep a close eye on the forecast for any thawing and refreezing weather, especially when driving at night or the early morning.
  • If you do hit a patch of black ice, avoid breaking. Slowly step off the accelerator and keep the steering wheel straight. If your back wheels begin to slide in a specific direction, turn the wheel towards that same direction.
  • If you can, stay/get off the road until D.O.T. crews can apply salt or other treatments and weather conditions improve.

The main takeaway is to remain calm and take proper action. Black ice can turn dangerous, but staying calm can help the situation tremendously.