'I thought for sure I was going to die...,” said Bobbi Jo Winneberger, a survivor of a deadly pile-up during a snow squall on I-83 near York, Pa., last week.
Terrifying car accidents in wintry weather such as blinding snow squalls, like the one that Winneberger drove into, have killed nearly 4,000 Americans over the past five years, a new survey found. Survivors recount scary tales of cars and trucks flying like huge missiles around them.
"It looked like a little blizzard went through," Winneberger said.
While we usually think of tornadoes or floods as the deadliest weather hazards, car accidents kill more Americans each year than any other weather hazard. And winter weather can create especially deadly hazards for drivers.
From 2011 to 2015, an average of about 800 Americans died a year in car wrecks because of snow, freezing rain, sleet or ice, according to an analysis of transportation data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Auto Insurance Center.
Ohio has been the deadliest state for winter car accidents: more than 420 deaths in the past five years. The state's average is 86 deadly accidents per year.
The deadliest states are all in the Upper Midwest or near the Great Lakes: Michigan (83), Pennsylvania (65), Indiana (49) and New York (46) round out the top five.
Snow squalls, which can create nearly instantaneous white-out conditions, are frequent wintertime hazards near the Great Lakes, sometimes leading to catastrophic pileups of dozens of cars. The snowy winters of 2013-14 and 2014-15 were particularly bad for these deadly accidents. In 2013, more than 1,200 people died in wintertime car accidents, the highest number of the past five years.
Experts have pointed out a common ingredient: People driving too fast for conditions.
"People need to keep in mind that the posted speed limit is for optimal driving conditions," said Fran McLaughlin, director of support services for the Milwaukee County, Wis., Sheriff's Office. "If you have wet, icy or snowy roads, we ask that people drive defensively. They need to allow more stopping distance. They need to slow down."
Surprisingly, since 2011, the eighth-most deadly state for wintertime vehicle accidents is Texas. While Texas does not regularly see snow — cities such as Dallas average only 2 inches a year — when snowy or icy conditions do crop up, numerous deadly crashes are possible, according to the Auto Insurance Center.
"It may be that folks in the Lone Star State aren't accustomed to driving in wintry conditions or they may not have the proper car equipment to allow them to drive safely on dangerous roads," the center reports.
In 2015, the most common times for deadly winter car accidents were around 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., the report found. As for the deadliest day of the week, Saturday, by far, was the most common day to get into a deadly accident in 2015: 286 accidents took place on that day. Friday was second, with 197 deadly accidents.
The number of deadly winter-weather-related car accidents dwarfs the number of deaths resulting from tornadoes, hurricanes or floods, which can receive far more media attention.
Over the past 10 years, extreme heat, with 113 deaths per year, is the deadliest weather hazard, according to the National Weather Service. Others deadly hazards include tornadoes (110), floods (84) and wind (56), the weather service said.