On December 1st, atmospheric conditions became perfect for the creation of sea fog over parts of west central Florida. The menacing collections of moisture were cutting down visibility to near zero.
At around 11:30 AM, the foggy conditions reached the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Drivers were forced to get from the Pinellas County peninsula to Bradenton/Sarasota via Tampa. This results in a detour of 40-70 miles, depending on your starting point.
In terrible driving conditions like this, authorities take no chances on the 190′ high bridge.
Part of this stems from a 54-car pileup that happened on the morning December 27, 1996. One person was killed and many were injured. The northbound lanes were closed several hours after the fog lifted.
Working in the City of Pinellas Park at the time, I sometimes had to make deliveries requiring travel of the Sunshine Skyway. I crossed the bridge that morning; southbound, then northbound.
Coming back northbound, it was very foggy on the bridge but I didn’t consider it frighteningly so. I descended the bridge at a slower-than-normal rate of speed–about 40 MPH. The few other vehicles around me did the same. The visibility began to improve as I continued into St. Petersburg. Still a dreary, overcast day, but visible.
A short time later, I returned to the shop in Pinellas Park. Co-workers greeted me with, “We’re glad to see you made it back.” “Did you wreck the truck?” “How bad was it?”
I didn’t know what any of them were talking about. I thought they were pulling a fast one. We were a group of jokers, and I was always a little leery.
“What? What do you mean?” I recall saying.
“You didn’t hear?” One of my co-workers asked. “There was a huge wreck on the Skyway. I just heard it on the radio?”
“Northbound?” “Yep. Northbound.”
Missed it, by just minutes. Maybe even seconds. I’ll never really know.
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