HANFORD – In the wake of several major accidents this week in thick morning fog, local officials are warning Kings County drivers to brace for what could be the worst fog season in years.
Drivers may be out of the habit of realizing the danger of speeding in the fog for the simple reason that there has been less fog in Hanford and Lemoore during the last several drought years.
The National Weather Service's Hanford office doesn't have data for the number of dense fog days in Hanford, but data on file for Fresno gives a rough idea of what's been going on.
The numbers show that in dry years, there's less moisture on the ground and in vegetation, which means less fog formation.
"Obviously, we have the extra rainfall this year, so it's really not surprising we're getting fog that thick, like it was on Tuesday," said Jim Andersen, a National Weather Service meteorologist at the Hanford office.
More than 50 vehicles on Tuesday morning were caught in a series of chain-reaction collisions on Highway 198 between Hanford and Lemoore.
California Highway Patrol officials say the cause was driving too fast.
Tuesday's super-low visibility may have caught drivers by surprise and caused them to forget how much they are supposed to slow down when visibility drops.
At 65 mph, on average, it takes a vehicle 400 feet to come to a complete stop, according to Hanford CHP Spokesman John Tyler.
Tyler said that includes an average reaction time of 1.5 seconds before the driver even starts to brake.
In perfect road conditions with unlimited visibility at 65 mph, Tyler said drivers should give at least three seconds of distance between themselves and the vehicle in front of them.
Another rule-of-thumb Tyler talks about is adding one additional car length of distance for every 10 mph increase in speed.
In thick fog where you can't see the vehicle in front of you unless you're following close behind, it might be necessary to slow to 30 mph on the highway, according to Tyler.
Tyler said that drivers and passengers involved in the big accident Tuesday were lucky to walk away with minor-to-moderate injuries.
"We could have had 15 fatalities," he said. "These were violent crashes. We're very fortunate."
Tyler said there were 36 separate collisions involving as many as 60 vehicles in that single crash alone.
That doesn't count the dozens of smaller accidents he said happened around Kings County Tuesday morning.
Tyler predicted that anybody involved in those accidents will think twice about driving too fast in the fog again.
"They learned a valuable lesson," he said.
Tyler said he anticipates "a lot of fog ahead of us" this fog season, which usually ends mid-March.
When high pressure sets in after rainstorms, it gives fog a chance to form.
"I know this year, we're definitely going to have more [fog] than last year," Andersen said.
The numbers show that in the 2015-2016 dry winter in Fresno, there were 15 days of fog where the visibility was a quarter mile or less.
The average from records that go all the way back to 1910-1911 is 32 dense fog days.
In October through December alone in the 2016-2017 season, there were 14 dense fog days in Fresno.