Avoiding Bad Weather When Traveling

When traveling for any distance, bad weather can cause everything from slight delays to major accidents. When truckers have advanced warning and know what to do in severe weather situations, they can keep themselves, their vehicles, and their shipments safe.

Look Out For Yourself When Traveling In Bad Weather

Truckers do not actively seek bad weather, but sometimes it is completely unavoidable. In severe and hazardous weather conditions, there are a lot of variables. Meteorology has come a long way since the Farmer’s Almanac, but all the technology in the world cannot predict the path of a tornado. No one can predict storm damage. Truck drivers cannot calculate for the behavior of other drivers on the road. However, truck drivers can be aware of their situations and stay in control of their own actions to avoid a state of panic. Remember, your vehicle has insurance, and can be replaced. The shipment you are carrying can also be replaced. Your life cannot.

Watching The Sky When Driving A Truck

Before we get into technology, and how it can keep you safe when driving in bad weather, we need to talk about the benefits of using your own eyes. The sky gives its own warning signals, which are helpful when out of range of radio and mobile coverage. Anvil-shaped clouds usually hint at nearby storms. A wall cloud, which can almost look like an alien spaceship landing, is indicative of tornado weather. Occasionally, you can see “eddies” in the clouds above, which could turn into microbursts. Out west, the sudden appearance of clouds in the summer can mean flash floods are on the horizon. Truck drivers have to pay attention to the road to account for variables like drivers and other obstacles. However, taking the occasional moment to see what the sky is doing can give you a better heads up than waiting for the warning to come through on the radio or your smartphone.

Driving In Hail

Hail is a very heavy and forceful form of precipitation. Not to be confused with sleet, hail forms distinct pellets which can range from a fraction of an inch to six inches in diameter. Hail is created from sudden differences in air temperatures and pressures, usually accompanied by an upward draft. Now, the natural reaction when faced with hail is to drive for cover, usually under an overpass on the highway. Do not do this. First, your truck, while under cover, is still not entirely safe from the hail. Second, you and your truck are even more at risk when parked under an overpass. Hail storms reduce visibility, can break windshields, and make the road very hazardous. Just because your truck is parked, does not mean the vehicles behind you can see that. One parked vehicle under an overpass can easily get hit from behind, causing a massive pile up. The best thing to do when driving through hail is to get off the road entirely and wait things out. Remember how we mentioned earlier that hail was caused by a difference in pressure systems which cause an updraft? Hail may mean something worse is close by.

Tornadoes And Truck Drivers

Tornadoes are caused by a clash in pressure systems, usually occurring between spring and summer. Apart from the hail mentioned above, what makes tornadoes more dangerous than regular wind storms is that a tornado vortex is completely unpredictable. Meteorologists can guess where tornadoes might strike, but no one can say where a funnel will connect between the ground and the clouds, nor th path it will take. What makes tornadoes even more hazardous is that, while most occur in the middle of the day, some do touch down at night, when no one can see them. Again, as with the hail storm, parking your truck under and overpass is the exact opposite of a good idea, but for slightly different reasons. Have you ever held your thumb at the end of a water hose or air pump? A similar effect is created in the space beneath an overpass with high speed winds. Trucks are not the most aerodynamic vehicles, and have a lot of surface area to catch wind. Tornadoes can pick up and carry entire trucks, or blow smaller cars into your truck. So what do you do to stay safe? First, look to see if there are any structures you can access. If you can, get out of your truck and get indoors. Second, if you cannot get to a building or house, get out of your truck, anyway, and get in a ditch or the lowest area you can find. (Note: This does not mean under your vehicle.) Third, be aware of flooding. The wake of a tornado drops a lot of rain. Unfortunately, there is not much more you can do to be safe. A quick Google Image Search will result in images of what the sky looks like right before a tornado hits. The greenish hue of the sky itself, and the large, dark wall clouds are the visual warnings you need to pay attention to in order to know when it is time to seek shelter.

Driving In A Blizzard

Compared to hail and tornadoes, a blizzard may seem much easier to handle. However, this does not make blizzards. Truck drivers have an advantage in blizzards because there is usually advanced warning by at least half a day, making it much easier to get to shelter before the snow starts to fall. As we have mentioned above for driving in other types of bad weather, reduced visibility and bad road conditions once again make parking under an overpass the wrong solution. At this point, simply rule out underpasses during bad weather. If you find yourself stranded, stay in your truck and try to stay warm until it passes. If you absolutely must drive through a blizzard, accelerate and brake very slowly. Do not try to power your way up hills. As always, if you can find a place to pull over and rest until the snow stops and the plows clear off the highways, do so.

Technology And Driving In Bad Weather

The trucking industry has become very advanced over the past few years alone. Drivers have GPS trackers, some of which give information on current traffic conditions and even weather changes. Smartphones have numerous apps which give ample warning for most bad weather conditions everywhere in the United States. Smartphones make communications much easier, as well, so truck drivers can call ahead to destinations, touch base with their fleets, and call for roadside assistance, if necessary.

Bringing The Basics

With all of the above tips, sometimes there is nothing a trucker can do in bad weather, other than shut down until things pass. Always keep supplies in the cab to keep yourself healthy and safe for prolonged periods of time. Putting together a survival kit should consist of the following:

  • First aid supplies
  • Flares
  • Rechargeable flashlight
  • Water
  • Jumper cables
  • Thermal blankets
  • Gloves
  • Change of clothes
  • Dried food
  • Portable phone charger
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Recovery straps
  • Tow chains
  • Hand crank radio
  • Knife
  • Auxiliary power unit

Prepared For The Unexpected

Truck drivers cannot anticipate everything, but with a little planning, they can make it through even the worst weather conditions. Always be aware of our surroundings and check on weather reports frequently. Be safe on the road, mind the sky, and make sure you know how to handle bad weather and extreme road conditions.