With one of the biggest winter storms in the southeast barreling across the area, the Florida Highway Patrol is working overtime on local roads to ensure they're safe.
"We are prepared for the worst and we hope that it turns out to be nothing at all, that this is all just one big, gigantic practice session,” said FHP Captain Eileen Powell.
Freezing rain, ice and sleet is expected in Columbia County and officers with FHP are warning drivers to use extreme caution behind the wheel. The FHP told Channel 4 Tuesday night drivers need to be prepared for the worst over the next 24-48 hours.
A big part of the FHP’s focus will be along the Interstate 10 corridor, where people tend to go too fast for the conditions, and where bridges could freeze over.
"We honestly haven't experienced this in about 25 years, so this is kind of uncharted territory for us,” said Powell.
Columbia, Hamilton and Suwanee counties are under a winter weather watch. FHP troopers said excessive speed, coupled with freezing rain could cause drivers to hydroplane and crash.
“We will be out patrolling the roadways heavily, because not only do you have to worry about drivers driving on the roadway, but disabled motorists who may break down in the freezing temperatures can't be left on the side of the roadway,” said Powell.
FHP is also keeping a close eye on bridges. Flashing message boards telling drivers to slow down and be careful of possible ice have been put out on the roads.
FHP told Channel 4 that if ice becomes too severe, some bridges could close along Interstate 75 and I-10. If that happens, FHP said they’ll have to urge drivers to take alternative routes, which could create another set of problems.
"All of the alternate routes are two-lane roadways that travel through small towns, which are then impacted because the red lights and the police departments are not prepared to handle interstate traffic re-routed into them,” said Powell.
FHP is telling drivers not to drive if they don’t have to, and remember to take it slow if you are out on the road. Another good tool for drivers is to dial *FHP on their mobile phones if they are in trouble and need help.