Severe Weather Preparedness 101: Driving In Severe Weather
Safety On The Road
It's Memorial Day weekend and that means that many of you will likely be traveling, It also marks the start of summer for many people. With that, comes the increase in motorists out on the road as many families take vacation, a trip to the beach, or a weekend retreat. So for this edition of Severe Weather Preparedness 101, we are going to go over a few safety tips for driving during severe weather. Do you know what to do when driving during severe weather? Do you know what to do if you find yourself in the path of a tornado while traveling? Here are some safety tips that can help you if you find yourself out on the road when severe weather strikes. First and foremost, if you can avoid being on the road during inclement or severe weather, that’s the best option, but if you must travel during bad weather, keep the following safety tips in mind.
The three groups of people most at risk during a tornado are those who are outdoors, those in mobile homes, and those on the road in vehicles. Vehicles are terrible places to be when a severe thunderstorm threatens. Fortunately, these situations can be avoided most of the time by being ALERT to the possibility of severe storms and tornadoes. All types of vehicles can be blown over, rolled, crushed, lifted or otherwise destroyed by even a weak tornado. People have also been hurt or killed when large trees crushed their cars.
IDENTIFY THE HAZARDS:
The chances of being hit directly by a tornado in your car are very small. However, severe thunderstorms contain other deadly and destructive elements that can threaten your life in your vehicle:
Severe thunderstorms can produce hail as big as baseballs or softballs. These chunks of ice, falling at over 100 mph from a severe thunderstorm, will break car windshields and dent vehicles bodies. Get off the roadway if possible and find shelter underneath an awning, a car-wash, or other structure. Abandon your vehicle if possible and get into a sturdy structure. Do not park underneath highway overpasses or bridges. You could cause a deadly traffic jam, preventing others from reaching safe shelter and blocking emergency vehicles. (see image gallery below for examples of hail damage to vehicles.)
Severe thunderstorms can produce devastating straight line winds, as strong, or even stronger than most tornadoes. Any vehicle may be overturned by severe thunderstorm winds. Get off the road, if possible, and find a sturdy building to take shelter in.
- Heavy Rain & Flooding
Even non-severe thunderstorms can produce excessive rainfall in a very short period of time that can flood roadways and low water crossings. Avoid areas where water is covering the roads - even familiar ones.
*Of the four main hazards that exist to motorist, the threat of large destructive hail is the biggest and most likely encountered. Hail the size of golf-ball or larger will break windows and potentially shower the occupants in broken shards of glass causing injury.*
|A hail stone from the Henryville IN tornado. This stone was found 3 hours after it fell. Still the size of a golfball.||Baseball sized hail easily destroyed this windshield. One of the biggest dangers to motorists on the road is injury due to broken glass from hail breaking windows.||Wind driven hail stones penetrated this police cruiser's back window.|
BE PREPARED: Know the weather for the cities and areas you’ll be driving through that day and if the forecast is looking bleak. The SPC and local meteorologists usually have a pretty solid forecast ready 1-3 days ahead of time. Plan alternate routes for your trip should you encounter severe weather along the way. Let someone know your destination, your route, and when you expect to arrive. If your car gets stuck along the way, help can be sent along your predetermined route.
- Carry a Disaster Supplies Kit in your trunk. Have a bag packed with water, non-perishable food, any medication you might need, flashlight and batteries, and a first aid kit. Make sure the bag is easily accessible, just in case you need it quickly.
- Carry an emergency contact card with names and phone numbers, and important documents or information you may need.
- Find out what disasters may occur in the place where you are traveling, especially if they are disasters you have never experienced before, or prone to a specific type of weather hazard. Find out how you would get information in the event of a disaster (local radio systems, emergency alert systems).
TIME TO GO: As you get ready to depart, fill the vehicle’s gas tank and clean the lights and windows to help you see. Don’t let the gas tank get too low during the trip. Use your seat belts and give your full attention to the road and avoid distractions such as cell phones. Don’t follow other vehicles too closely and use caution in work zones.
DURING THE STORM: Many states now use flashing signs along the highways to warn drivers about severe weather threats. If you pass one of these signs, or the sky turns dark and threatening, tune into a local radio station to listen to weather forecasts for where you are. If you are caught in a storm while driving, turn your headlights on and try to safely exit the roadway and park. Stay in the vehicle and turn on the emergency flashers until the heavy rain ends. If thunder and lightning is occurring, avoid touching metal or other surfaces that conduct electricity in and outside the vehicle.
ALWAYS HAVE A WEATHER RADIO WITH YOU: This can be a live saver. A battery operated weather radio is essential for travelers. A weather radio will notify you when any type of warning is issued by the NWS and usually come equipped with an emergency alert tone, followed by a recording specifying the threat, the speed and direction of the storm, and cities to be impacted. They often times tell you what mile marker a storm is impacting along interstates. For semi drivers, many CB radios also come equipped with channels designated for NWS alerts and warnings. Stay aware of radio stations along your route, as often they are are good at covering severe weather.
- If you're in your car and you do not have a weather radio with you, find a station broadcasting weather information. Some radio stations will interrupt programming to broadcast warnings and other information. Others are automated stations and may not. Search for a station with local weather information and listen for details. Remember you will not get any warnings if you are listening to CD's or satellite radio in your vehicle.
NEVER SEEK SHELTER UNDER AN OVERPASS: While many people believe an overpass is the best place to seek refuge during a tornado, it’s actually the worst place to be during a tornado. Seeking shelter under an overpass puts you at greater risk of injury or even death from flying debris. The winds from a tornado produce airborne debris that are blown into and channeled directly under the overpass, putting those seeking shelter there at greater risk. The narrow passage underneath an overpass actually increases the wind speed under the bridge. If a tornado passes directly over an overpass it can create a super concentrated “suction force” that will easily pull anyone hiding under it right into the tornado. Trailing winds will also be greatly increased under an overpass. The reason for this is the aerodynamics in overpass construction. The smaller openings with two side walls creates a “tunnel effect” that forces the wind to accelerate an a much higher rate as it is forced through the opening. NEVER seek shelter under an overpass!
*SAFETY TIP: ALWAYS BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS*
DATE: April 22nd, 2011
TIME: 4:32 CST
LOCATION: Weldon Spring Missouri, I-64 Exit 9
EVENT: Tornado warned supercell with brief embedded circulation & weak tornado
SUMMARY: A series of tornadic supercells raced across portions of Central Missouri. One of these storms crossed I-64 near the town of Weldon Springs. This was a high precipitation storm and as it crossed the interstate, it developed an embedded circulation within the rain. a brief suction vortice developed and caught the eye of the semi truck driver in the below. He was coming off on-ramp getting ready to get onto the interstate. Fixated on what just occurred, he stopped on the on-ramp and turned on his hazards to wait it out. Unfortunately, he was unaware of potentially dangerous rotation right above him that could have dropped a tornado at any moment. He was also on the outer edge of the weak circulation that had just formed ahead of him. NOT a good spot to be in! Other motorists continued to drive right into the rain wrapped circulation unaware there was actually a weak tornado embedded within. The youtube video below shows this event as it transpired. (Courtesy of storm chaser Jesse Risley.) Moral of this short story. ALWAYS be aware of your surrounding, especially during severe weather.
|ALWAYS be aware of your surroundings! Know what is occurring. Here a semi truck has stopped at the top of an exit interchange in MO to take shelter from a storm. The driver was unaware of the dangerous circulation above him ready to drop a tornado at any moment. Luckily, we were able to reach him on his CB and prompted him to move.|
DO NOT TRY TO OUTRUN A TORNADO: You simply won’t and will put you and other motorist at even more risk in attempting to outrun it. Tornadoes can travel in excess of 60 mph or more and do not adhere to or follow road patterns, therefore a tornado can quickly overcome a motorist. If a tornado does not appear to be moving to the left or right, it is heading straight towards you. Every situation is different, and if faced with a tornado threat while on the road, your best course of action will depend on your exact location, the tornado's location, speed, and direction of movement, road options available to you, nearby structures, time of day, traffic, weather conditions you're experiencing. While you should never try to outrun a tornado in your vehicle, you may, in some situations, be able to get out of the tornado's way by driving out of its path, or simply stopping and allowing the tornado to pass. If you have adequate time and the available option, driving on a 90-degree angle away from the tornado is a good strategy to follow in order to distance yourself from the tornado.
TAKING SHELTER OUTDOORS: The best thing to do if you find yourself unable to escape the path of a tornado while driving is to exit your vehicle and find a place to take shelter immediately . The force of a tornado can easily pick up vehicles, even 18 wheelers, and hurl them through the air at a high rate of speed. You will not want to be inside when that come crashing back down to the ground. NEVER hide under your vehicle. A tornado can and will easily roll your vehicle over. If you are able, seek shelter in the nearest sturdy building or storm shelter. Motorists have found truck stops, convenience stores, restaurants and other businesses to be adequate shelters in a tornado situation. Walk-in coolers can sometimes make a good shelter. If that isn't a viable option then taking shelter along something with an interior wall is a plus, put as many walls between you and the tornado. A bathroom or closet is a good choice. HOWEVER, as often is the case, many motorists simply do not have time do this or if you are traveling along a highway or interstate, finding a building is simply not an option. What is the best course of action to take if a tornado hits you along the interstate? The worst-case scenario for motorists is to be trapped in your vehicle on the road with no escape possible. This scenario could occur in more densely populated areas, in metropolitan areas at rush-hour or in high traffic situations, or on limited access roadways, such as interstates or turnpikes, where it might not be possible to quickly exit and find safe shelter. It is in these situations when it may become necessary to leave your vehicle and seek shelter in a ditch, culvert or low spot. I want to stress that this should only be done as a last resort only. Find a gully, ditch or ANY low lying spot in the ground and lie flat with your head protected by an object or just your arms if you can’t find an object to use. Stay away from trees as they can easily be toppled over or become projectiles in a tornado. Ditches, culverts, and ravines should be used only as an absolute last resort. You will be exposed to flying debris, rain and hail, lightning and extreme wind. People have survived by seeking shelter in ditches, but people have also died.
Driving in High Winds
Do you know what to do if you are impacted by high winds while driving? Straight line winds, derechos, and microbusrts often create a safety hazard to motorists caught in their paths. If winds become strong enough to cause you concern while driving, it is recommended that you pull over and wait out the conditions.
- Anticipate gusts: Take special care when driving through areas prone to strong winds or when weather reports predict severe weather.
- Notice larger vehicles: Be aware of large vehicles on the road such as tractor-trailers and recreational vehicles. They are more susceptible to high winds and drivers may have difficulties staying in their lanes or they can easily be tipped over.
- Keep a firm grip on the wheel: Keep both hands on the wheel in case the wind begins to move your vehicle, especially if you are driving a large vehicle or towing a trailer.
High wind conditions, especially when gale-force gusts are involved, have the potential to push your car around the road. When this happens, a driver may need to correct the vehicle manually by steering either with or against the wind. This means turn your vehicle to face directly into the winds. This allows the air flow to follow the streamline aerodynamic design of your vehicle, allowing for the least amount of resistance. If your vehicle is being hit by strong winds from the side, this greatly increases your chance for a rollover, especially for semi trucks, so always re-position yourself into the winds when applicable.
Oklahoma & Kansas Turnpike Shelters:
A relatively new option to motorists over the past several years in tornado prone states such as Oklahoma and Kansas is the construction of tornado shelters under the interstate. For those unaware, here is an informative link.
As always, preparedness is key, and following these tips can greatly increase your chances of survival if a tornado or severe weather strikes while you are driving. Always adjust your driving according to the conditions and plan your journey by checking the latest weather forecast.