Testing the Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice WRT tire(Photo: Samuel King Jr., US Air Force Photo)

Valparaiso, Fla. - Of all the places where a manufacturer could put its latest winter tires to the test, Goodyear has selected sunny, picturesque Florida. With ambient seasonal temperatures hovering in the low 30s (Celsius, not Fahrenheit), it's far more hospitable than traditional Northern climates. In fact, Goodyear thinks it's such a good idea, it regularly conducts extensive winter tire tests and analysis adjacent to the gleaming, warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

No, its tire engineers and scientists have not gone off the deep end, nor are they using sand to simulate snow. Often, they can be found huddled inside the largest climatic test laboratory in the world - the McKinley Climatic Hanger located at the Elgin Air Force Base.

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McKinley climatic test chamber(Photo: Richard Russell)

Massive doesn't come close to describing the size of the building - it has a little more than 75 metres by 80 metres of uninterrupted floor space, and is nearly 20 metres tall. Each of its four chambers is larger than most other climatic facilities around the world, and can house jetliners for testing. In addition to temperature control, these smaller chambers offer environmental simulations ranging from sand and dust storms to salt fog and high-altitude rapid decompression.

The McKinley Hangar can be heated to 74C or cooled to -54C. For our purposes, it was a chilly but not unreasonable -6C inside. By contrast, it was a rather balmy 34C outside. To make the arena feel like a Canadian city blasted by a mid-winter snowstorm, the facility's snow-making gear had produced 15 cm of snow which was compacted over three-quarters of the floor, while ice-making equipment created a 15-metre-wide strip of sheer ice running down the length of the arena.

More winter driving articles from MSN Autos:
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Rubber, meet snow; snow, meet rubber

Goodyear Tire test truck(Photo: Samuel King Jr., US Air Force Photo)

Goodyear conducts a myriad of carefully instrumented tests here. On this occasion its engineers were comparing their new Ultra Grip Ice WRT SUVs and light trucks winter tires. Internal tests utilize one of a trio of very special light duty pickups designed for tire testing purposes. They have a specially developed rear suspension and use electric motors to power the rear wheels. This allows more consistent and accurate measuring of the forces applied to the tire and the traction available. A myriad of sensors and other electronic apparatuses allow engineers to set and monitor everything from slip angles to how much torque is sent to which wheel and the results.

As for us, we wheeled around in full-size SUVs and pickups shod with the Goodyear's latest as well as the competition. While we don't have any test figures, what we can report is that the Ultra Grip WRT tires felt better, delivering improved braking and steering feel on snow, ice and yes, even summer conditions as a few laps around an outdoor circuit demonstrated.