Summer days of sunshine and warm weather are quite inviting, but we also need to be aware of and prepared for changing weather patterns that are a big part of life these days. Strong wind gusts, heavy rain, frequent lightning, and damaging hail are not only scary at home, but especially dangerous while on the road. As we all know, in Central Virginia, many severe storms occur during the late-afternoon commute, or when the family is headed off to the pool for a swim meet, or to a local park for an outdoor concert.
It’s important to stay aware of changing weather patterns before and during the storm to remain safe while traveling. If at all possible, it’s a good idea to delay any road travel or pull over to a safe place until after a storm has passed. If you must drive, do so with extreme caution by increasing following distances and slowing down. Too often, drivers will try to push through the inclement weather in an effort to get home, and ultimately hydroplane, spin out, or even worse, end up in a serious crash.
Use these strategies while driving when severe weather is more likely:
1. Be wary of high-wind conditions. Larger trucks, SUVs, vans, and trailers are more affected by high winds, so give them plenty of room on the roadways.
2. Slow down! When roads become wet, slow down, don’t make sudden moves, and leave a safe following distance (eight to ten seconds) between you and the car in front of you.
3. Do not use cruise control, as the chance of losing control of your vehicle increases. If you begin to skid, the system may interpret the skid-induced reduction in speed as a need to apply more engine power, making it harder to recover from the skid.
4. Use your headlights. Turn on your headlights at the first sign of darkness or decreased visibility. In Virginia, and many other states, drivers are required by law to turn on the headlights when the windshield wipers are in use.
5. Remember your hazards. Turn on your hazard lights to indicate to other drivers that upcoming road conditions are severe.
6. Pull over. Blinding rain can make visibility next to impossible. Turn on your hazards, and slowly pull over to a safe place on the side of the road or parking lot until the storm passes to avoid hitting another vehicle, bicyclist, or pedestrian.
7. Stay weather aware. Tune in to local media weather reports to track fast-moving storms.
6. Brake slowly. Avoid slamming on the brakes, as this may cause your vehicle to hydroplane.
9. Stay alert. Eliminate all distractions, like loud music and cell phones. Ask the kids or other passengers to be quiet so you can concentrate on driving.
10. When traffic signals are out, treat the intersection like a 4-way stop sign.
11. Turn around, don’t drown. National Weather Service data shows that nearly half of all flash flood fatalities are vehicle-related. Ironically, many drivers rescued from floodwaters report that their reason for driving into water in the first place was because they were in a hurry to get home to safety. The safest practice during a flood or flash flood is to avoid driving onto water-covered roadways, even if the water depth appears low. Water depth is very difficult to estimate on roads, especially at night, when many flood deaths occur. In the case of a flash flood, water rises very quickly. Water that covered a road by only six inches at one moment could easily be two to three feet deep just seconds later.
In Central Virginia, severe storms are a part of life. Planning for them, and keeping these strategies in mind while driving this summer will go a long way toward keeping your family and loved ones safe and happy.
Photo: Creative Dog Media