"Winter weather arrives," said the headline of my late-evening post on Thursday. The light covering of snow in Strasbourg didn't really match the optimistic headline, but my journey back to Amsterdam last night certainly did.
After a relatively uneventful journey up the A61/E42 autobahn in Germany, the first heavy snow started falling about 20 kilometers south of Venlo, the border crossing into the Netherlands. And it snowed, hard and fast. By the time I got to the German/Dutch border, motorway traffic was down to a crawl in the face of driving snow blowing hard from the west.
I think this storm caught everyone completely by surprise. The motorway hadn't been salted or gritted, so it wasn't long - literally a matter of minutes - before the road was covered in snow in spite of heavy traffic. The further I drove, through Venlo and onto the A67/E34 motorway west towards Eindhoven, the worse the conditions became until somewhere between those two towns, the motorway traffic came to a complete standstill in almost blizzard conditions with snow piling up all around us.
This photo is one I took in a rest stop in between Venlo and Eindhoven, which I'd pulled into because the windscreen wipers couldn't shift all the snow and I needed to manually clear it away, and the washer jets were frozen up.
Boy, it was snowing hard and bitterly cold, and with a very strong wind. Getting out of the rest stop was tricky with lots of wheel spinning in the snow, which I estimated to be about 8 centimeters deep. All this had fallen in just a couple of hours. (You can't really tell how hard it was snowing from this small pic - click the image for a larger version.)
Things got worse heading north at a crawl on the A2/E25 from Eindhoven towards 's-Hertogenbosch. The dashboard thermo in my car said the outside temp was around minus 2 Celsius (about 28 F) so it wasn't long before the paved motorway began to resemble an ice rink.
In two separate places, I saw two cars which had spun off the motorway into the ditch, one car completely overturned and on its roof (in both instances, the police were there).
You couldn't drive fast in such conditions, but that certainly didn't stop some from doing so. Crazy, stupid people.
After passing through 's-Hertogenbosch heading towards Utrecht, things gradually deteriorated until, not far into the journey on that stretch of motorway, all traffic ground to a halt and then proceeded to crawl, at first-gear speeds, for the next 90 minutes or so as the snow continued and the road conditions became very treacherous for driving at any faster speed. I'd say we covered perhaps 5 kilometers (3 miles) in those 90 minutes.
At one point, I saw on the other carriageway a convoy of snow ploughs and gritters proceeding abreast across all the motorway lanes, getting rid of the snow and ice. All while it was still chucking it down with snow. These were massive trucks, surreal-looking with their orange flashing lights and bright spotlights like beacons in the darkness as you peered through the car windows into the white-speckled night. And behind that convoy, a queue of vehicles which stretched for miles and miles behind. No one made it home for dinner on Friday night.
Then, eventually getting to Utrecht, it was like passing from one dimension into another where suddenly there was no snow, no ice on the road and no strong winds. Not even any rain.
From that point, some 40 kilometers from home, I made the remaining journey in less than 20 minutes, arriving here at just gone midnight. Then, spent another 20 minutes watching local TV reporting on the chaos on the roads and railways because of the snow storm.
Quite an experience.