As temperatures drop and winter encroaches on Idaho, the risk of driving in the snow becomes a major concern in the state.
A report last week from the home security review website SafeWise listed Idaho as the fourth most dangerous state for driving in the snow. There were 11 fatal crashes in which weather was a contributing factor, according to the 2016 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data used by the study.
The 11 fatalities made up more than 2 percent of all fatal snow crashes in the country and provided the fourth highest rate of fatalities nationwide.
Wyoming and Montana also were listed in the top four most dangerous winter-driving states, with Wyoming having a fatal crash rate almost twice as high as any other state. Meteorologist Tim Axford at the National Weather Service station in Pocatello said that the strong winds and high elevations in the area could be responsible for those increased driving dangers.
“Even with crews out there cleaning the roads, with strong enough winds they can quickly recover the roads (with snow) or just limit the range of visibility for drivers,” Axford said.
The NWS station in Pocatello predicts that this winter could have less snow than normal due to the effects of a possible El Nino system coming through. Lower elevations could have more rain as their precipitation, but higher elevations would still have snow on the roads.
The difference caused by elevation has already impacted the local weather. Snow has started accumulating in the Teton Range, but Idaho Falls and other low elevation cities are not expected to have their first winter storm for weeks.
Axford said that the first snowstorm of the season usually has a higher rate of crashes and fatal accidents for drivers in eastern Idaho.
“Sudden changes in driving conditions are possible, especially if you get snow squalls or other large storms,” he said.
The vast majority of weather-related driving fatalities occurred in rainy conditions. In 2016 there were 2,368 fatalities from crashes in rain and just 482 from snow-related crashes, SafeWise reported. The SafeWise study also found that October was the most dangerous month for both rain and snow crashes across the country.