THE BEST WAY to stay safe in a natural disaster is to stay off the road.
But at some point, many of us will get caught in dangerous weather conditions, so it’s important to know what to do.
- Warning signs: Not all tornadoes have a funnel. Look for whirling debris under a cloud base and hail or heavy rain followed by dead calm or a fast wind shift. Listen for a loud continuous roar. At night, watch for small bright flashes at ground level and a persistent lowering from the cloud base.
- What to do: Drive at 90-degree angles away from the tornado, says Melani Scamardo, USAA’s director of automobile advice. Seek shelter in a sturdy building if possible. If you encounter flying debris, pull off and keep the engine running. Stay buckled in, put your head down below the windows, and cover yourself with a blanket or coat. If you can get lower than the car, such as in a ditch, get out and lie flat with your arms covering your head. Never seek shelter under a highway overpass. The destructive winds can blow debris into that space.
- Warning signs: Flash floods arrive quickly, often taking drivers by surprise. “Observe all warnings and roadblocks,” Scamardo says. Water can be deeper than it looks, and just 6 inches can cause loss of control and stalling.
- What to do: Exit through windows if the water starts to rise. Get out of the car and try to grab on to something solid such as a structure or a tree. Don’t re-enter the water.
- Warning signs: Be on the lookout for a sudden increase in wind or a change in wind direction. You also may smell rain, feel a drop in temperature or see darkening, billowing clouds. But be aware, keeping your car in good condition helps you prepare before you even see those warning signs. “Make sure your wipers have been replaced before they start to deteriorate, and make sure you have good tires,” Scamardo says.
- What to do: Slow down and put on your low beams. Use the air conditioning or heater to clear foggy windows. Maintain a safe distance from cars in front of you. If visibility decreases, pull off, turn on emergency lights, and keep your foot on the brake. If lightning is active, avoid touching anything metal in the car. Don’t touch the radio or talk on a phone.
- Warning signs: Dust storms can appear with little warning in the Southwest, especially during summer monsoon season. Arizona has a new highway warning system, however.
- What to do: Don’t drive through a dust storm. Pull over and put your vehicle in park, exiting the highway if possible. Turn off all vehicle lights. Set the emergency brake, stay buckled in, and wait out the storm.
Take a look at USAA’s month-to-month auto guide for tips on keeping your car in good condition.
Safety guidelines are not intended to be all inclusive, but are provided for your consideration. Please use your own judgment to determine what safety features/ procedures should be used in each unique situation.
USAA means United Services Automobile Association and its insurance, banking, investment and other companies. Banks Member FDIC, Investments provided by USAA Investment Management Company and USAA Financial Advisors Inc., both registered broker dealers.
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