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Chicago to San Francsico in January

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Chicago to San Francsico in January

Hi All,

I am driving from Chicago to San Francisco in early January and need advice on the best route. I have previously driven this route in the Spring via I-80. But I am concerned the weather may not ideal in many of the cities along this route in January. Any advice on the best winter route is greatly appreciated! :)

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1. Re: Chicago to San Francsico in January

It all depends on weather, vehicle you will be driving, and your tolerance for snow/ice/delays. You will need to track weather as trip approaches & plan accordingly. To far away to help much now.

Uden, The...
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2. Re: Chicago to San Francsico in January

Any other route from I80 will be a major detour and no way to predict weather. I80 still will be your best option imo. Most chance on winterstorms through Wy.

Chula Vista...
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3. Re: Chicago to San Francsico in January

Hi and welcome to the forum.

I made the trip in the opposite direction in late December one year.

DAMcC22 is right--you need to keep a very close eye on the weather.

Tet's also right that Wyoming can be bad, but so can all of the midwestern plains states (NE, IA, IL) with high winds and blowing snow. Don't forget, too, the infamous Donner Pass over the Sierra Nevada mountains. [Tet, if you're not familiar with that history, Google "Donner Party," but somehow I suspect you already know the story. :-) ]

In my case, the weather forecast for the Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada mountains was for snow, so I had the time and opted to drive south to I-40 and head east.

Once in AZ, the weather in the central Rockies was looking good and I was able to take I-15 north to I-70 east to Denver, and then worked my way back to I-80 using I-76.

If you don't want to make a broad, sweeping detour as I did, then you'll just have to hole up in a hotel for a day or two until the storm is past and highways are reopened.

On other winter trips, I've also taken the I-40 route all the way across the southern tier of states hoping to avoid snow and still managed to get snowed in at Gallup, NM. (I got the last room at the hotel when I gave up trying to drive and pulled off the highway.)

Bottom line: Build an extra day or two (min.) into your schedule to allow for weather detours or delays. But if the weather is good, you may luck out and be able to make the entire trip along I-80 without a hitch.


P.S. I grew up in Chicago and know that you probably already know most of these, but here are some winter driving tips that I put together for another poster who was new to winter driving:

1. Keep current on the weather forecast along your route and are prepared to cancel or delay your trip if some big storm is headed in your direction.

2. Allow ample time to drive at a slower pace. Even on a snow-packed Interstate, traffic can slow to 20-30 miles per hour depending on the conditions.

3. Increase the distance (double) you follow behind another car to allow for stopping on snow or ice

4. Even though it's not actually snowing, snow already on the ground being blown by high winds can cause drifting on the highways and white-out conditions. Don't even think of driving in white out conditions.

5. Be ready to pull over and get a motel rather than push on because your have a timeline to keep. Better to be late than get in an accident because you were rushing.

6. Make sure you keep you gas tank above 1/2 a tank. That's in case you get stuck in snow or traffic. You don't want to run out of gas trying to keep the car warm. If you do get stuck, make sure your exahust pipe is clear and that you roll down one window just a little to make sure the car doesn't fill with carbon monoxide from the exhaust.

7. Make sure you bring certain essentials for an emergency:

a. Cell phone and charger (load the phone numbers for each state's road conditions hotline into your directory so you have them at your fingertips if you need them).

b. Flashlight

c. Water and some snacks (again, if you get stuck for an extended period)

d. Warm blankets and good boots (I actually threw my camping sleeping bag in my trunk).

e. Jumper cables if your car's battery goes dead.

f. Bring a gallon bottle of windshield washer fluid. Windhields can get really dirty really fast in winter driving, and you'll go through a lot to keep it clean.

g. Snow brush, ice scraper, small shovel, and perhaps some anti-skid mats to prevent tires from spinning if you get stuck.

h. Chains for your tires for mountain passes. [California will require chains over Donner Pass if the conditions call for it: …ca.gov/hq/…chains.html ]

All of that is for a worst case scenario in remote areas. Except for the windshield washer fluid and snow brush/ice scraper, I've never had to use any of it (but I still brought it with me--cheap insurance!).

Edited: 23 October 2012, 18:28
Park City, Utah
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4. Re: Chicago to San Francsico in January

I wouldn't worry too much about it as you can't manage the weather. We live on I-80 and travel all of the segments you'll hit frequently. While you want to watch weather for the entire route, there are several areas of special note:

- Wyoming essentially between Cheyenne/Laramie and Rawlins. High winds can create drifting and low visibility here. Not a lot of lodging options if you hit storms. Do plan this segment carefully.

- Parley's Summit between Park City and Salt Lake City. Rarely closed and quickly plowed, but it is a potential bottleneck in bad weather. Alternate is taking I-84 up to Ogden then back down where you'll have no mountain passes.

- Donner's Summit, a sometimes greasy, slidy mess going up from Reno to Truckee and a bit beyond. Definitely wetter snow than you'll find in Utah.

I would not worry about figuring an alternate plan, just deal with situations as you see them. Advance weather forecasting is fine for what you need.

Have fun.

Uden, The...
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5. Re: Chicago to San Francsico in January

Yes, Zed. I read it all about Donner Party. We once stayed Donner lake for several days to explore the area too. We sometimes do crazy things like following Pony Express trail after our visit to St. Jo's museum....

And Kirsten, I would want to have awd with the car and M&S tires.

For weather details click on this map:


6. Re: Chicago to San Francsico in January

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