Blinding Ice


It was late March, and an early spring blizzard was lashing the Rockies before heading toward the upper Midwest to wreak further havoc. Warm moist air to the west of the mountains was being pushed upgrade by the prevailing winds; as the air expanded, it cooled, resulting in a major dump of powder on the appreciative ski areas, but rather nasty weather for travelers.

Windshield Icing


Splat! The windshield in front of me went from dry to a solid block of ice in less than a second-and I couldnt see a thing. One moment I was cruising along, admiring the Rockies just west of the Eagle County (Colo.) Airport, and the next I was totally blind. I had been monitoring the ceiling-progressively lowering as I climbed along the west side of the mountains, and the OAT, which had been dropping and now read 28 deg. F. A sudden gout of water had hit the windshield, and the already super-cooled liquid had frozen into an opaquely solid mass as soon as it hit. Indeed, the change from liquid to solid was so instantaneous the ripples caused by the impact were preserved. As a relatively new pilot, I fly for fun, in VFR weather and remain in awe of those who would stray into the path of ice-known or even just possible.

During my training, I was taught to slip the plane down the glidepath while peering out of a side window if the windscreen become opaque. I do believe that avoidance might be a superior alternative, especially given my level of experience.

I had been monitoring the situation, and all exposed surfaces, and luckily didnt panic. Windshield wipers on high (didnt do a thing), defroster on high (still no effect), checked the rear view mirror, hit the emergency flashers and slowed down as I gently pulled to the right, peering out the side window at the subtle white line marking the shoulder. Did I mention I was in a rental car on Interstate 70 at zero agl, rather than following V108 a few thousand feet higher?

But airborne or firmly grounded, avoidance is the first and best defense. Turning tail or pulling off onto the shoulder/airport of refuge is second. And the next time I even begin to suspect that I might possibly encounter ice, Ill preheat my windscreen with the defroster-whether I am airborne or on the ground.

– Daniel Spitzer, M.D.


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