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  1. Default OR to FL safest routes to avoid snow, mountain passes

    Hello Road Trippers, I'm new to this wonderful site and will take me a while to catch up to the previous posts, so I apologize if this is a question that already exists on this forum somewhere.

    I need to drive my elderly mother back home to Florida for a life or death medical necessity, so time is of the essence here. Looks like we will be hitting the road mid-February and I am absolutely terrified at the thought of crossing mountain passes in the middle of winter, which is expected to be a bad one out west this year (thanks, La Niņa). Hence, I am seeking advice for the safest, not necessarily the quickest or most scenic routes, this is not a sightseeing trip unfortunately this time.

    Departing from Portland, Oregon in a 2005 Nissan Pathfinder (which is going to be serviced this Friday for a full safety check) heading to Miami with mom, one small dog and one cat.

    From what I've gathered on advice to previous posts, the coastal route is suggested. I would like to head down the Pacific Highway and stop in Los Angeles for a few days, avoiding I-5 preferably. But I'm being told by well-meaning California friends that I-5 is more closely monitored and plowed frequently as it's a major corridor. I also know that when I moved to Oregon from FL I got lucky and crossed Grants Pass on a sunny postcard blue-sky day in mid-December, and the next day there was a major snowstorm which closed I-5 with stranded motorists having to abandon their vehicles. I will do anything to avoid Grants Pass this time of year, or any snowy mountain pass.

    Is hugging the coast safer? What conditions can I expect? What is the safest way to drive if I hit heavy fog/snow and can't pull over? I just bought a Midland mobile CB radio to monitor the NOAA channel, am putting together my emergency kit with flares, food, blankets, etc. and sure hope we don't have to use it.

    I will limit driving no more than 5 hours per day due to diminished daylight, safety is my biggest concern here, slow and steady wins the race!

    As soon as I figure out how to use the Map Wizard I will try to plan out the route and where to stop overnight, but figured I'd ask as probably one or many of you have already done this trip.

    Any advice greatly appreciated. Thank you!!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default A few basics.

    Hi, and Welcome to the Great American Roadtrip Forum.

    If you read through the roadtip advice forum for Winter, a recurring theme arises. No one can tell you what the best route is for the days you travel, nor what the weather will be like. Not until a few days beforehand will you be able to tell from the forecasts where a storm will hit, and which will be your best route. As a general rule, as well as watching the forecasts, your best bet will be to stick to the interstates, which, as your Californian friends have told you, are the first to be plowed and opened after a major storm.

    In the next two months, the best thing you can do is familiarise yourself with all the possible routes available to you, so that when the time comes you will be familiar with all your option, accommodation and services along each route. [A good map of the US or individual States, or a road atlas will be of assistance here.] That way you will be able to make last minutes adjustments according to the forecast. It will also help if you have to make any adjustments to your route during your trip.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Time is of the essence ?

    You have to keep in mind that the coast is twisty and slow going [even in good weather ] and would add a lot of time to your journey, especially when restricting yourself to 5 hours on the road each day. A direct route to Florida [I used Gainesville] would take around 10 days from Portland at this pace, if you head to LA via I5 it would add a couple of days travelling. If you took to the coast you would need to take around 14 days in total. So is if time is of the essence and the main thinking behind going via LA is to avoid poor weather, a rethink is in order. You can not be sure of avoiding poor weather anywhere in the winter and heading south to avoid it is a myth, you can see snow and ice storms in the south and they are less well equipped to deal with it, plus adding 4 days to your journey only increases the risk of running into bad weather whereas those 4 days would give you plenty of time to sit out any poor weather and wait for it to pass and the road crews clear the road. As mentioned, no one has any idea of what the weather will be doing when you leave so really it's best to keep your options open and then hope you will get a good run all the way. Be prepared as you are already doing, but also don't let this freak you out too much, remember people travel everyday of the year to get kids to school, go to work and transport goods across the country and the prime goal is to let that happen in the safest and most convenient way.

    Safe travels.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Along the lines of what Dave suggested, I'm quite confused when you say "time is of the essence" and then talk about planning your trip by driving only 5 hours a day and adding a detour to LA, where you're planning to stop for a few days. Throw in an additional detour to drive to the coast, and you're now looking at a trip that's going to take you nearly 3 weeks to get to Miami!

    I would also encourage you to stop worrying about things like "it's expected to be a bad winter" or "I want to avoid XXXX at all costs." The reality of winter travel is that you'll have the possibility of seeing winter weather almost anywhere on your trip, and going down to Southern California first certainly doesn't eliminate that possibility. As you mentioned yourself, you drove I-5 in December and saw perfectly good conditions, and it's entirely possible that's what you'd see again. Even with the storm that hit that area the next day, I'd bet that within a day or maybe two if it was really bad, that the highway was back open with normal conditions again. That's where watching weather forecasts is helpful.

    We actually recommend the safest option for winter travel is to take the most direct route - which means the least amount of time on the road, and thus the least chance of seeing bad weather, and the most time available to sit in a motel and wait for conditions to improve if you do see a storm. While the most direct route for your trip to Miami wouldn't take you to California at all, if you have a desire to go to LA first, such a trip would also demonstrate the point of following that advice. Yes, driving via the coast will make it very unlikely that you'd see snow, but the extra miles on slower roads means that you'll need at about 6 days to complete the trip just to LA, driving via the coast. Taking I-5 would require about 3-3.5 days at your 5 hours a day pace, so even if there was a storm, you could take I-5 and wait in a hotel room for 2 days for things to clear, and still get to LA faster.

    It probably also is worth mentioning that if you are this concerned about winter driving, and time is of the essence, you may be better off looking at options like flying or taking the Train.

  5. #5


    You be OK. Just few things to consider for safe trip:
    Be prepared to stop on the route in case bad weather hits (stay at motel/hotel)
    check all weather and google maps for traffic every morning before driving
    Only drive during day light, avoid sleepy overpasses/bridges at night
    have a newer tiers installed in 2005 vehicle

    I would consider Hwy 99 from Sacramento to I/40 and since you leave Portland in the morning you will likely pass Grant Pass and Siskiyou pass during day time.

    Bad weather can hit Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and part of Florida (Winter Fog).
    Last edited by jm98; 12-07-2016 at 05:18 PM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Central Missouri


    Beware that CA-99 does not directly connect with I-40. You would need to use CA-58 from Bakersfield to Barstow, where you would pick up I-40. CA-58 goes over the Tehachapi Pass, but snow is an extreme rarity there. Nothing to worry about.

    Once on I-40, you will start to climb into the mountains between Kingman and Williams.


  7. Default

    Thank you all for your kind and helpful advice! I'm gonna stick to the interstates and skip LA. My Rand McNally 2017 Atlas arrived today (woo hoo!), now I just need to plan the most direct routes. Thanks Donna and jm98, I will study the CA-99/CA-58/I-40 situation and start to plan my stops. Yes, daylight driving only, that's why I'm figuring 5 hours a day worse comes to worse if I'm driving slower or leaving late morning depending on weather conditions, I want to make sure to be in a hotel/motel around 6pm latest. My Pathfinder goes in for service tomorrow and I do have newer all-weather tires, now I need to stock up the road gear kit. I'm sure I'll have more questions as I plan the route, thanks again for the advice and support. This is a wonderful community. :-)

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Quote Originally Posted by LuluMiami View Post
    I will study the CA-99/CA-58/I-40 situation and start to plan my stops.
    If you are taking the direct Interstate Route, you wouldn't go anywhere near Southern California.

    The direct route would take you towards Salt Lake City, and across I-80 through Nebraska, eventually heading Southeast through Kansas City, St. Louis, Nashville, and Atlanta.

    Even that direct route is 3200 miles, so if you're only doing 5 hours a day, that's about 11 days. Going down to SoCal first pushes your distance up to 3600 miles, which means another 2 days on the road.

  9. Default

    Thanks, Midwest Michael! I'm mentally prepared for the trip to take up to two weeks since I'm not covering a whole lot of distance each day, and I may need to sit it out a day or two if bad weather hits. So I'm hoping to choose interesting cities to stop in, while also making sure these are cities with pet-friendly hotels, basically anywhere with a Motel 6 or La Quinta. It's the midwest where the weather is most likely to be bad according to the weather predictions for this year, but a southern route would indeed take much longer. But I would love to hit New Orleans and then hug the Gulf Coast down to Miami. Time to try out the Map Wizard!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Again, things like "weather predictions for this year" are not something that are particularly relevant for your trip. Not only are such statements so broad they are virtually meaningless, but it doesn't matter one bit what the weather for "the year" is, it only matters what the weather will be on the dates of your trip (which could mean quiet weather in the midwest, and brutal storms in the southern plains, there is no way of knowing until you basically ready to depart and can see accurate forecasts.)

    Now, if you want to take a southern route because there are places like New Orleans that you want to visit, that's a different story - just don't think that "going south" will somehow assure you of seeing better weather.

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