Inclement weather can always make for hairy driving conditions. Summer storms can flare up fast, and the hotter the day the higher the level of danger. Driving safely when the weather is against you means a special set of skills, and extra concentration.
How to Drive Safely in Inclement Weather
One of the biggest dangers of driving in a summer storm is complacency. Drivers who fail to adjust their driving to conditions are at the highest risk of accident. Staying aware is the first step to staying safe in all weather.
There’s a lot of misconception around hydroplaning, so let’s start with some definition: Hydroplaning is the condition in which there is more water on the road than your tires are capable of clearing out of the way. The result is that your tires are separated from the actual road surface by a thin layer of water, meaning you effectively have no traction. Although it may not be strictly true owing to a variety of factors, it’s safest to assume you’re hydroplaning if you’re traveling faster than 35mph on a wet surface.
Some tips to help avoid hydroplaning:
- Check your tire pressure before you get on the road. Tire treads work as designed when tires are properly inflated.
- Keep up to date on your tire maintenance. Tires with acceptable levels of tread wear, and that are properly rotated provide the best possible traction.
- Slow down! Modern conveniences like four-wheel- and all-wheel-drive, and traction control create a false sense of confidence, as they make it easier to achieve an unsafe rate of speed. If you’re traveling fast enough that your tires can’t scatter the water ahead of them, you’re hydroplaning no matter how nice you think your pickup is.
- If possible, avoid standing water on the roadway. Remember the operative principle here is your tires being able to clear the water from under them to maintain contact with the pavement.
- Try to avoid the outside lanes, where water tends to accumulate.
- Try to stay in the tracks left by the cars ahead of you. The tires before yours did some of the work for your tires, and the less reflective strips have less water on them.
- Don’t use cruise control. You need to be in direct control of your throttle and braking systems in order to maintain overall control of your vehicle.
- Avoid hard braking and evasive maneuvering.
Keep Up with the Weather Reports
Check the weather before you drive and keep up to date with developments while you’re on the road. Forewarned is forearmed, and the National Weather Service exists to arm you with the weather-related information you need to keep yourself and your family safe.
Some weather terms that are important to know:
- Severe Thunderstorm Watch: Conditions are likely to develop into severe storms that can produce hail and wind gusts up to 58mph.
- Severe Thunderstorm Warning: A severe thunderstorm has developed and is expected to last in the affected area for the next 30 to 60 minutes.
- Tornado Watch: Weather pattern can develop severe thunderstorms which can produce tornadoes in and around the watch area. People in the affected areas are encouraged to be prepared for severe weather and to be prepared to take cover if needed.
- Tornado Warning: This typically means that spotters have sighted a tornado or radar has indicated a tornado in the warning area. When a tornado warning is issued, people in the affected area are encouraged to take cover immediately.
How to Drive in Strong Winds
Powerful winds are some of the most destructive forces in nature. Often enough you’ll be battling the wind in addition to other factors such as rain, lightning and hail, making matters even more difficult. Keep a cool head and stay smart to keep safe when driving in high winds.
- Keep both hands on the wheel and pay careful attention to your surroundings.
- The wind may try to push you, so you’ll need to be extra alert and aware of other vehicles and potential hazards.
- Pay attention for downed trees and blowing debris to ensure you have as much reaction time as possible.
- Avoid standing water, as strong wind alone can make your vehicle difficult to control. Add hydroplaning into the mix and you can have a recipe for an out-of-control vehicle.
- Remember that other vehicles can be pushed around by the wind, too, and avoid following too close or driving immediately next to other vehicles.
How to Drive in a Tornado
Don’t. Be aware of the weather and stay clear of tornados. Pull over to safety as soon as possible and seek shelter from the storm.
If you can’t get inside, you’re in a legitimate emergency. Experts variously disagree on the safest way to avoid injury or death in the event that you’re in a vehicle with a tornado bearing down. Here are some of their suggestions, and we’ll pray you’re never in a position to have to consider these last resorts:
- Don’t stop under bridges or in tunnels. It seems like you might want the shelter from wind and debris, but these structures can actually create a dangerous wind tunnel effect which intensifies wind speeds. The safety and other experts are fairly unanimous in the opinion that you do not want to be under an overpass in a tornado.
- Get off the road and get parked. Again, there’s not a lot of disagreement here. Even if you can’t get to a parking lot, or get off at an exit, get as far clear of the roadbed as you safely can.
- One recommendation is to stay with your vehicle. Keep your seatbelt fastened and your engine running so that all of your safety systems are functioning. Get your head down low, below the level of the windows if possible. Pull a coat or blanket over yourself and cover your head and neck with your hands. Of course, tornados can pick up vehicles and throw them, so you’ll want to try to pull your vehicle to the lowest spot possible to get out of the wind.
- Another recommendation, if you can’t get your vehicle below the level of the road bed, is that you’re better off outside. Crawl into a culvert, lay down in a ditch, just get as low as possible. One of your biggest concerns in this event is going to be flying debris, so make sure your head and neck are protected. Your other major concern in this event would be rainfall, and in the event of intense rain you might still be safer in your vehicle than hiding out in a feature designed to channel rainwater.
The fact is, if you’re faced with a tornado head-on and no chance to get into a building there are no safe options. It’s been posited that on the open highway, with no possibility of shelter, your best option may be to stay buckled up and just keep driving.
A Word on Water
Every year hundreds of Americans are killed by flood waters, the majority of them in vehicles. Twelve inches of running water can carry away most passenger cars, and two feet will carry away most any vehicle, including trucks and SUVs.
Don’t drive through standing or running water on the roadway. Take whatever detour you can to avoid drowning, trapped inside your vehicle. Seriously, just don’t.
Weather-related Deaths in the U.S.
|wdt_ID||Notes||State||State Code||Year||Year Code||Cause of death||Cause of death Code||Deaths||Population||Crude Rate|
|1||Alabama||1||1999||1999||Exposure to excessive natural heat||X30||11||4,430,141||Unreliable|
|2||Alabama||1||2000||2000||Victim of cataclysmic storm||X37||14||4,447,100||Unreliable|
|3||Alabama||1||2002||2002||Victim of cataclysmic storm||X37||10||4,480,089||Unreliable|
|4||Alabama||1||2007||2007||Exposure to excessive natural heat||X30||14||4,672,840||Unreliable|
|5||Alabama||1||2007||2007||Victim of cataclysmic storm||X37||10||4,672,840||Unreliable|
|6||Alabama||1||2011||2011||Victim of cataclysmic storm||X37||242||4,802,740||5|
|7||Alabama||1||2016||2016||Exposure to excessive natural heat||X30||12||4,863,300||Unreliable|
|8||Alabama||1||2017||2017||Exposure to excessive natural heat||X30||10||4,874,747||Unreliable|
|9||Arizona||4||1999||1999||Exposure to excessive natural heat||X30||25||5,023,823||0.5|
|10||Arizona||4||2000||2000||Exposure to excessive natural heat||X30||28||5,130,632||0.5|
|Notes||State||State Code||Year||Year Code||Cause of death||Cause of death Code||Crude Rate|
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics
Have a Road Emergency Kit
If circumstances ever do find you stranded on the road, you’ll be glad you build your emergency kit. A solid kit will contain the survival essentials that can keep you safe until help arrives:
- A high-visibility garment: A bright colored vest, t-shirt or jacket with reflective trim
- Folding, reflective safety triangles
- A flashlight with extra batteries, or a hand-crank flashlight/radio
- Basic first aid kit with treatment manual
- Fire extinguisher – ABC type
- A survival blanket
- Emergency whistle
- HELP / OK sign
- Warm clothing – hat, gloves, extra socks
- Bottled water
- Non-perishable, high energy foods (trail mix, granola bars, Cliff bars)
- A pocket multi-tool or Swiss Army Knife
Plan to Survive
They say, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” The opposite is true as well. Proper planning and effective preparedness can make the difference between life and death.
Plan your summertime trips. Take weather into account, and make sure you’re prepared for emergencies. Get out there and have fun, and get home safely!