Tips for Driving in Bad Weather: Fire, Rain, Flood and More

By Angela Epley

Common sense and experience both dictate that the best thing to do in a natural disaster is to remain calm, find a safe spot far away and remain there with loved ones and precious treasures until the threat passes.

That said, Mother Nature decides when disaster strikes — not you. You may even find yourself behind the wheel when extreme weather conditions strike. If this happens, follow these tips for driving in bad weather.

Essential Equipment

Just as it’s wise to keep a pair of jumper cables or a jump starter in your car, certain equipment can help you battle the elements if nasty weather arrives suddenly. Some essentials may have more regional appeal depending on where you live.

  • Salt or kitty litter, to rough up snowy or icy roads and help speed melting
  • Shovel, for snow or other items that may pile up in your path
  • Tow and tire chains, if your car breaks down in snowy conditions
  • Snow brush and ice scraper, so you can clear frozen-over windshields quickly and safely
  • Blankets and warm clothing, to fend off cold weather
  • Mini fire extinguisher, for extreme heat and fire conditions
  • Extra cell phone battery, to make sure help is always just a call away
  • An emergency radio, to stay informed if your vehicle is out of power

The key equipment might just be patience, according to CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and USAA advice director Rich Lunsford. “Knowing what to do is important, but a calm and patient mindset to make thoughtful decisions is where it all begins.”

 Basic Maneuvers

There’s no one-size-fits-all situation when it comes to driving in bad weather, but some maxims are worth keeping in mind during an emergency on the road.

  • If you find yourself skidding or sliding in wet or cold weather, turn into the swerve to slow your roll and restore equilibrium.
  • If you become stranded, avoid leaving your car unless you’re positive that it will help make things better – and you know how far away help is and can return to your vehicle.

Extreme Conditions

Some extreme conditions and natural disasters have their own tip list. If you happen to be driving when the weather takes a nasty turn, use these tips:

Extreme Cold

  • In heavy snow or icy conditions, crack one car window very slightly to prevent your car from sealing shut.
  • Stay hydrated with water and drinks with electrolytes and suck on hard candy to keep dry mouth at bay.
  • Make sure your exhaust pipe isn’t blocked and that you have enough fuel to run the car and the heater for 10 minutes per hour until help can arrive.
  • If you make a sudden stop, pump your brakes instead of mashing down the pedal steadily to avoid skidding.

Extreme Heat

  • Never, ever leave a child or pet in a car unattended, even with the windows down, as this may be a fineable or even a criminal offense.
  • Prevent burns by checking metal surfaces like belt buckles before using them.
  • Use windshield shades to reflect harmful UV rays away from you.
  • Crack a window to keep the inside of your car cool and ventilated when parked.

Fires

  • If possible, park your car in an area where there’s no vegetation around you to burn.
  • Close windows and vents to prevent smoke from entering your vehicle, and try to get as low as possible with to avoid any smoke that does enter the vehicle.

Hurricanes

  • Have an evacuation plan for your loved ones, pets and beloved treasures before an evacuation order is released — and let your family know about it so there’s no confusion.
  • Fill up on supplies like gas, potable water and nonperishable foods that can keep you mobile, fed and comfortable if power goes out for a few days.

Tornadoes

  • Seek shelter outside of your car, and if no shelter is available, find a ditch you can lie flat in with your hands protecting your head.
  • Don’t “chase” or try to outrun a tornado, since the path is not only unpredictable but incredibly destructive and can contain debris.

Torrential Rains

  • Turn off cruise control, as it may increase your chances of hydroplaning.
  • Turn on headlights to help other drivers see your vehicle on the road.
  • Change your windshield wiper blades regularly, as these rubber pieces quickly degrade with regular use.
  • Drive below the speed limit to account for impaired visibility and possible hydroplaning for you and your fellow drivers.
  • Try to find a safe place to wait out the storm — under a bridge or other structures. Remaining patient and calm can sometimes be the best course of action.

Floods

  • Turn around, don’t drown — in other words, no matter how big your tires are, don’t risk driving into water-blocked areas because the water may be deeper than what you can see, and currents may quickly carry your car away.
  • If your vehicle has stalled and there’s nowhere to go, save yourself by abandoning your vehicle and getting to higher ground as quickly as possible.

Earthquakes

  • If you’re on a freeway and can still safely do so, exit ASAP.
  • Stay in your car until shaking stops (and remember that aftershocks are a thing).
  • Avoid stopping on or under bridges or overpasse
Make sure your car is kept in good condition throughout the year by following USAA’s month-to-month auto guide.

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.

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. owns the certification marks CFP® and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ in the United States, which it awards to individuals who successfully complete the CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.

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