Have you seen a 100-car pile up in fog?
Fifteen years ago, I was nearly in such accident on the highway between Sydney and Canberra. I learnt three important lessons from this unforgettable experience.
ONE, LISTEN TO WHAT THE WEATHER MAN SAY.
TWO, KNOW THE LOCAL WEATHER.
THREE, MAKE SURE YOUR CAR IS WEATHER READY.
I was in school in Canberra and my family was often in Sydney over the weekends. Our boy was 7, and our girl was 5.
Once, when it was time to return to Canberra on a Sunday afternoon, the weather man warned that a storm was approaching.
I recklessly decided to make the 2-hour dash from Sydney to Canberra, and try to out run the storm.
It turned out to be a foolish decision leading to one of the most frightening experiences of my life.
When we set off, the weather was still fine in Sydney.
It was bright and sunny at first, though I did noticed that the highway was unusually quiet.
One third into the journey, a big cloud appeared behind us. It stretched from end to end in the sky like a big black blanket. Now I know why the highway was deserted. Everyone was wisely heeding the weather man’s warning, except silly me!
FIRST LESSON, HEED THE ADVICE OF THE WEATHER MAN. He is here to help.
I stepped on the accelerator and tried to out run the black cloud. The black cloud seemed to know my intention and appeared to be racing us.
It seemed that a giant unseen hand was pulling the black curtain forward. Everywhere around us started to become dimmer and dimmer. Soon the leading edge of the black curtain reached right above our heads. The rain started to pour on us.
I had no choice but to slow down.
The black curtain passed over us and continued to stretch forward towards the horizon in front of us. Soon almost the whole sky was blocked by the black blanket.
All was black, except for a small hole far in the distance where a narrow beam of light peered through.
This too was soon gone. The sky was completely covered by the black blanket. It felt like we were in a box and the lid was pulled over us.
This was one of the scariest moments of my life. I have never seen anything like this before.
SECOND LESSON, KNOW WHAT THE LOCAL WEATHER IS LIKE AND WHAT ARE THE DANGERS.
It was terrifying for me but I had to remain steady and keep my wife and the two children calm. I told them that there was no problem but I was really shaking inside.
I couldn’t see more than 10 feet ahead of me. It was like I had driven into a car wash machine.
The headlights were of no use as they were pointing skywards. The fog lights were on but they too were pointing up and crisscrossed in front of me! I had four beams pointing up aimlessly and couldn’t see the road surface! I didn’t know what the wheels were rolling over and wouldn’t know if I was driving over a cliff! And the road was also slick from the pelting rain.
I was afraid to stop or even slow down by too much as I don’t know what might be coming up from behind me. It suddenly dawned on me how 100-car pile ups happened.
A car lost in fog would forge ahead until it strikes a stalled car in front. Another car blinded by fog will hit the car in front and this chain of accidents will continue until the fog clears – sometimes, not before hundreds of cars came to grief.
THIRD LESSON, MAKE SURE THE CAR IS WELL PREPARED FOR WEATHER.
I couldn’t see in front, but fortunately there were posts on the side of the highway. I continued driving at a crawl by straining my eyes, peering at these posts. The closely planted posts were really life savers. I’m forever grateful to the Australian highway authourities.
I just kept going this way for the next 30 minutes. Those were the longest 30 minutes of my life.
Then gradually a slit opened in the blanket above to let light in behind us. It was like the curtains were slowly drawn to welcome the morning sun. The slit slowly grew wider and wider. The sky opened up above our car and moved forward towards the horizon. Soon the entire sky was bright and cheery again.
What a relief! It was like waking up from a very bad dream. What a fantastic feeling!
I felt extremely lucky to escape unscathed.
There were many lessons for me from this episode. The three main things about nature are:
FIRST, THE WEATHER MAN’S ADVICE IS USUALLY GOOD FOR US.
SECOND, WEATHER OVERSEAS IS NOT AS FRIENDLY AS SUNNY ISLAND SINGAPORE. It can be nasty and deadly, if you don’t understand and respect its nature.
FINALLY, MAKE SURE THE CAR IS READY FOR THE WEATHER YOU ARE LIKELY TO ENCOUNTER.