This column first appeared in the December 15, 2019 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
I think I have polar bear blood.
During most winter days, I feel slightly less comfortable indoors than out.
This is probably because of the “malfunctioning” thermostat that slowly increases our home’s temperature throughout the day. I can only assume it’s broken because no one ever admits to changing it.
This is also because the cold weather suits me, as do most winter activities. Short winter hikes, sledding and snowball fights, and yes, even shoveling snow are fun for me. It’s good exercise for polar bears.
I also enjoy winter travel, driving to see family and friends.
Obviously this last activity is a little tricky for a few reasons.
In the early part of winter driving season, it takes time for some of us to remember how to navigate snow-covered roads. Our road conditions in northeast Ohio are, at times, treacherous.
Even with great road crews—and we have some of the best in the world—it’s tough for any plow or salt truck to stay ahead of rapidly changing weather conditions.
But have no fear. For those of us who accept the challenges of winter driving, there’s good news from the social media front.
Long time readers may recall my love affair with the social GPS app, Waze. Anyone who listens to me prattle on about driving directions and conditions know that using this app is the only way I can travel.
Without it, I would be literally and figuratively lost.
Waze is constantly upping its game, adding new features and providing real-time updates about road conditions around the world. Well, most of the world—more than 185 countries—even a few with real polar bears.
A new feature released this week makes driving a lot easier for Waze users.
We can now see up-to-the-second snow warnings for roads that crews haven’t reached, and instant reports from other users that help Waze reroute us to better road and weather conditions.
Waze boasts a great user-friendly interface.
If you’re already familiar with the app, look for this new feature by selecting the “Report” icon, then “Hazard,” then “Weather.” Under the weather hazard, you’ll see options for fog, hail, flood, ice on road, and unplowed road.
Of course, Waze is best known for community-fed features that include warnings about speed traps and red light cameras, and ever-changing road and traffic conditions like accidents and construction.
It’s best to use Waze by entering your destination first. Let the app know where you’re headed so that it knows how to reroute you if the road ahead looks a little dicey.
The social GPS was built around the same platform used for Google Maps (Google also owns Waze), so chances are, Waze will work in most locations with good network access.
Waze worked the Virginia Department of Transportation to build in this new feature. The hope is that these reports will assist road crews, like ODOT and local agencies and municipalities, more quickly address the roads that need the greatest attention.
It might also give first responders an added tool for reaching those in need just a bit faster.
Polar bears and other winter drivers can download Waze from the Google Play or Apple’s App Store. It’s free and has minimal in-app advertisements.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.