So, when I did my first road trip away from the West Coast, I decided to go big! However, so did the weather in several areas. To be honest, at a certain point, I was scared. Why? I was unsure of the safest thing to do. Disaster movies came to mind with visual recollections of characters tying themselves to metal posts in tornados or being swept away in a tropical cyclone. What of these, previously entertaining, moments were factual, if any?
My summer 2021 road trip, “16 States in 16 Days,” about 6,000 miles, and I bumped into everything! In Louisiana, the trip found itself caught on the edge of Tropical Storm Claudette on June 18th just as the drive headed toward Tennessee (the storm lasted in Louisiana for a few days). On the way to St. Louis, just a day later, my phone alerted me I was in a, “dangerous +2 lightning storm,” while headed to St. Louis, Missouri. Both of these drives had rain so hard, it was difficult to see the road, cars, or anything but water. During the evening stay in St. Louis, there was minimal rain. However, the lightning shot across the sky from all around and sometimes struck the same spot several times within a few seconds of each other.
Windy, of course, and drizzling most of the next day in Chicago, that evening turned for the worse. I spent 2 hours in a hotel stairway that night, accompanied by rain, sirens, a lovely couple who had just gotten married, and an F3 tornado raging about 15 miles south of our location. This was easily one of the most scared moments I have had in my life, fascinated by the science, hopeful for others caught in the path of the “finger of God”. As much as I loved Chicago, (trust me, there was PLENTY of time to see things in the city!) I nope’d right out of there the next morning. If that wasn’t enough, several fires raged across the USA with the worst in Colorado, and, well, it even rained in Las Vegas. Yes, it does rain in Vegas. Seeing events like these firsthand humbles you and makes you really appreciate first responders and the helpfulness of a fellow being.
Every time you go on a road trip you run the risk of hitting some kind of weather event or natural disaster, whether it’s a major storm, wildfires, landslides, earthquakes…so, what do you do when it happens? I was of more extreme weather changes in the mid-West but did not realize the intensity until being present for them and checking online weather reports. Let’s look at things that can happen in all three major regions of the U.S. to keep YOU and I safer on our adventures!
Yes, we do have earthquakes. Thankfully, our infrastructure is built for them and it’s relatively rare for one to do real damage. But we have some other issues, too. Here’s what to do in each of them.
- Earthquakes. If the road starts to shake, you should carefully pull over. Do not stop under or on a bridge or overpass, or under trees, light posts, signs…anything which might fall on your car. The safest place to be is in your car. When you resume driving, keep it slow and watch for breaks, cracks, potholes, fallen rocks, and damaged bridges. If you’re at the waterfront and the sea starts to leave, get inland and onto high ground quickly. Receding sea can be the first sign of a tsunami.
- Wildfires. Unfortunately, fire season has been particularly bad over the last few years. If you are in an area with smoke, keep your windows rolled up. Stay in your car. Close your air vents. Continue driving, but avoid heavy smoke if possible, keeping your headlights on. Obey road closures and detours and always let firefighters past. Be flexible with your plans.
- Storms. Hailstorms are pretty common in the mountains, and can sometimes trigger rock falls and landslides that block passes. Try to avoid a schedule that will cause issues if a pass is blocked for several hours.
- Excessive heat. Southern California gets pretty hot, and this is also a note for the southwest desert states. If driving through the desert, make sure to have plenty of water in your trunk and also take salty snacks. Park your car in shady areas if possible.
We’re not going to talk about those Midwestern winters because that’s not when you’re going to be taking your road trip. Leave that to the people who live there.
But there are some things to worry about even in the summer.
- Tornadoes. A tornado warning means that conditions are possibly suitable for a tornado. A tornado watch means that the storm is producing potential tornado conditions and/or a tornado has been sighted. In towns where tornadoes are common, you may hear sirens…if you do, go into the nearest open building and go to an interior room or basement. Find out if your hotel has a tornado shelter or a basement area. If not, the safest place to be is the bathroom. Do not go anywhere until the tornado warning has passed. If you are on the road and the tornado is distant, turn at right angles to its path and drive until you find a sturdy building. If you’re actually caught in high winds, pull over, park, and tuck yourself in the bottom of the car….or leave and put yourself in a ditch. Don’t shelter under a bridge.
- Lightning. If you are driving during a lightning storm, stay in your car. Even if your vehicle is hit, you are likely safe as the metal frame conducts lightning past you. Make sure any sunroof is thoroughly closed. Pull over if visibility is too bad to safely drive.
- Excessive heat. In the central south, you have the same heat issues as in the desert. However, the further east you go, the higher the humidity. Check not just the temperature but the heat index and avoid physical activity during the hottest part of the day.
In general, the East Coast has less severe weather than other areas, but the biggest concern is hurricanes. Unfortunately, hurricane season overlaps with the summer vacation season. You might, though, consider scheduling your trip earlier in the summer. While hurricane season starts on June 1, it’s rare for there to be severe storms before August.
- Hurricanes. The nice thing about hurricanes is that you can see them coming. The bad thing about them is they last for days. If you are planning a trip during hurricane season, be ready to change your plans. If you’re booking stuff in advance, consider travel insurance. Don’t stick around…make sure you have a full tank of gas and get out. Every year, some idiots get hurt trying to watch a hurricane.
- Lightning and thunder. East coast storms tend to be shorter and less intense than those in the Midwest, but dangerous summer storms are not unknown.
- Excessive heat. High heat and humidity are an issue everywhere from Maryland south. Avoid scheduling heavy activities for the hottest part of the day and keep plenty of water in your car.
The most important thing is to be flexible. You never know what might happen and you need to be willing to accept a bit of a detour. Sometimes it can be more exciting than your original plans! To find out more, contact There Goes Sara Rose today.