Interstate 81 snow storm traffic

Interstate 81: 8 hours, 1 girl and her car

I lived one of my worst nightmares on Monday night: being stuck on the interstate in bad weather with nowhere to go and a lot of trucks on the road. I was up at my Dad’s house Sunday and Monday to have a permanent crown put on my tooth. We knew they were calling for bad weather to start moving in Monday morning, but I had no idea how bad it was going to get…..

I left my Dad’s house around Noon for what’s usually about a 4 hour and 15 minute trip home. It ended up taking a little over 8 hours. It started snowing about 40 minutes into my trip and the road conditions continued to get worse the further south I got. It was slow going at times, but I didn’t hit my first major traffic slow down until about 3 hours into my trip.

Interstate 81 snow storm traffic

From there on, I would alternate between crawling and being stopped still. The main hold up was mostly disabled vehicles. By that I mean vehicles that were stuck in the snow, not broken down vehicles. Unfortunately, once people got stuck they were just in the way and often they were stuck on the only drivable part of the road as well. There were plenty of wrecks, though. Very few were just people sliding off of the road. I’d say about 90% of them were multi-vehicle wrecks involving cars and tractor trailers. This was a common sight along the way:


Sometimes we would have to sit for a long time for the road to clear (I think I sat still for nearly 90 minutes at one point), and other times we would serpentine through. It’s really eerie to weave through wrecks involving three tractor trailers and six cars that are all now stuck on either side of the road. Most of the cars really didn’t fare well, either.

Interstate 81 snow storm traffic
We sat on this hill for over an hour and a half, and it took two hours total to get up this mile-long hill.


As I got closer to home, the road conditions continued to deteriorate (see above picture). I hit a major delay right after I missed my last chance to get off of the interstate for the next 10 miles (exit 128). This particular section of 81 (the section from exit 128 to exit 118, for those who are familiar) has huge, curved hills. We kept getting stopped on the hills and then cars and trucks wouldn’t be able to start again. A lot of the trucks would actually end up sliding backwards and sideways. It was so scary and unnerving, and by 6 hours into my trip I had absolutely had enough. I actually cried a few times during this stretch.

I made arrangements to meet Barry at the Virginia Tech exit (20 miles north of my usual exit), so that he could take me home in his truck. I got there about 7 hours after leaving my Dad’s house, and I was so relieved to see Barry. At that point my nerves were completely fried. Just after I made it there, they closed the interstate.

This is from a different snowstorm on I-81, but a good example of Monday. (source)

We left my car at a gas station, with permission, and Barry drove me the rest of the way home. He offered to drive my car for me and I could drive the truck, which has 4 wheel drive, but I was just so done.

I am so grateful for Barry’s encouragement and advice, and for my Dad teaching me how to drive in this type of weather. I spoke with both of them on the phone numerous times during my trip (with a hands free device), and they probably don’t realize how many times they “talked me off the ledge,” so to speak. I’m also thankful that my car (a Mazda 3, which has no 4 wheel drive) can be switched from automatic to manual. Being able to shift up to second gear is the only thing that allowed me to continue driving after being stopped on those big hills on the interstate.

All in all, we got about 9 inches of snow. It’s going to take me a long time to recover from that experience. I’ll still drive on I-81, no problem, but never again in the snow like that. I should have stayed at my dad’s house, but like I said who knew it was going to get that bad. Hindsight is 20/20. Oh and we went and retrieved Hey Car, as I call her, this morning around 5 AM. She’s home safe now.

What are the worst road conditions you’ve experienced on the highway? I’ve been on I-81 in the snow before, but nothing like that.

15 thoughts on “Interstate 81: 8 hours, 1 girl and her car”

  1. Worst conditions for me was a late night drive on I-81 heading north out of Harrisburg, PA. Thankfully I connected with a snow plow and followed it for most of my trip. Made it to the ski resort.

    Next time you aren’t leaving.


    1. It would be scarier to be in an area where you didn’t have anyone to come and get you. I hooked up with a snow plow on Monday, too, but then he reached the end of his territory.

      Next time they’re calling for bad weather I’m definitely staying! But I do kind of blame the weatherman for ‘crying wolf’ too much.

  2. Oh my goodness, how terrifying!! I’m so glad you are safe now. I would be traumatized as well as being in those conditions is one of my worst nightmares. Hugs to you!

  3. So glad you made it home safely! That sounds horrible! I’ve not had to drive in severe snow thankfully, but there were plenty of times when I lived in Florida that the rain would be coming down so hard that we had to pull over because you couldn’t see out the windshield. That is scary!

    1. I think rain can be just as bad! I’ve been in rainstorms where you can’t see a thing, and that’s really scary. Not to mention high water and hydroplaning.

  4. That sounds terrifying! I need to brush up on my snow-driving skills. I was sliding all over the place on my way home from work Monday.
    I once got caught in a blizzard. I was less than 15 miles from home, but I had to go over Monticello mountain. I know just how you felt. SO emotionally EXHAUSTING and TERRIFYING!! I cried, too. I can’t imagine having to deal with that for HOURS.
    So glad you made it 🙂

    1. I think the key points are to never slam on your brakes and to go really easy on the gas. I saw so many people on I-81 Monday who would either slam on their brakes (thus causing them to slide) or would freak when their tires started to spin and hit the gas more.

      Yikes I do not want to go over any mountains in a blizzard! I’ve been over a few in the snow, where I didn’t realize it was going to be snow covered, and couldn’t turn around because it was a two lane curvy road with no shoulders. Definitely no fun!

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who has cried while facing adverse road conditions. Sometimes you just need that release so you can keep dealing with what’s in front of you. 🙂

  5. Oh no! I think I would have gotten a hotel in Harrisonburg, and you know what a huge heavy all-wheel-drive beast I drive! So glad you had Barry and Roger on the phone to keep you calmer.

    I remember when you and Joseph were probably juniors at VT (2009) and it snowed like crazy Friday night after fall exams and just before winter break. J was going to stay and drive home on Saturday, but when I heard the forecast I told him to come home on Friday. The kids that had late exams on Friday, and drove home on Saturday took about nine hours for that four hour drive. I was so thankful for my “mama instincts.”

    1. My dad suggested a hotel several times, especially in the Roanoke and Salem areas. But at that point all of the off ramps were covered in snow and I was worried about getting stuck on them. So I kept waiting and pushing on trying to get closer to home.

      I remember that snow storm! I drove home in it, too, although I made it before the worst of it moved in. I had my friend with me, which helped, but there were cars sliding off of I-81 left and right.

  6. So sorry you had to go through that! Scary and stressful for sure. We closed early on Monday, at noon, so headed home. It was not too bad yet and felt comfortable going 45-50 mph on 81. Unfortunately the crazy semi trucks wanted to go a lot faster than that. I can’t stand them!! Two years ago I was stuck on 81 between the Cburg exit and the Radford exit for 2 hours. I actually ended up driving on the right side of the rumble tracks to get to exit 109 to where Chad was with the truck. Left the car at Food Lion for the night. I was done but not nearly as done as you were! No fun at all.

    1. I’m glad you were able to get home before things got bad. The semi trucks are insane! They were screaming by me once we did finally start moving again on I-81, and my little car couldn’t do more than 10 mph without fishtailing. Ugh.

      I remember when you got stuck! That was the day I got my work car stuck less than a mile from the house. The snow came down so fast that day. Thank goodness for our guys and their trucks, huh? 🙂

  7. I remember seeing your car on the side of the road by Judy’s place. Yes, boys and their trucks do come in handy! Most recently last night trying to get to the house!

  8. Ugh. I-70 in Colorado gets BAD often and it is a pain to have to sit through. Luckily, we have a Jeep with 4WD and studded snow tires, which helps. On Monday night we drove through some bad snow on our way home from Utah, but managed to avoid the major delays by taking some side streets. I would never attempt this in Kermit, though. Fun Fact: Kermit is a Ford Fiesta and if we did not choose the Fiesta our second choice was the Mazda 3. Glad you stayed safe and Barry came to the rescue!

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