During a serious storm, it is best to wait it out indoors. But if you absolutely must venture out in a car, these tips may help you to arrive safely.
Downpours are always hazardous because your wheels lose traction on wet roads. But they're especially dangerous after a long, dry period, because an oily residue on the roads can make them slick.
- Slow down to avoid hydroplaning, which can happen when the tires lose contact with the road as they skim across the surface of the water. That can lead to a loss of traction and prevent the vehicle from responding to steering, braking, or acceleration. The water doesn't have to be deep; even a thin film can cause problems. To minimize hydroplaning, slow down and don't steer or brake suddenly. And make sure your tires are in good shape and are properly inflated.
- Avoid puddles if you can. If you can't, slow down but don't brake suddenly or jerk the wheel. And never drive through moving or standing water if you don't know how deep it is. You could do serious damage to the car or even be washed away.
- Don't use cruise control during downpours. To maintain a steady speed, the system can cause the car to accelerate suddenly on slick pavement and you could lose control.
Windy conditions can really push around tall vehicles like SUVs and vans. But a light, small car can be buffeted easily, too, and cause you to swerve.
- Keep both hands tightly on the wheel when it's gusty. Quick spurts of wind might require more steering corrections.
- Keep an eye on your speed if you're driving into a headwind. You might have to give the car some extra gas to keep the pace.
- If the wind is blowing strongly from one side, steer into it slightly to stay on course. Be alert for a break in the wind, because you might have to quickly straighten the wheel and steer into it again with the next gust.
Be especially alert when entering and leaving a tunnel or other protected area or when passing or being passed by a large truck.
After the storm
Big storms with heavy winds and rain can wreak destruction across a large area. But even when roads are passable, there can be real dangers. The following tips will help keep you and fellow motorists safe.
Call your insurance company if the car was damaged by the storm. Take photos of the vehicle and context, showing the area around the car. Having visual evidence of how the damaged occurred may help with processing the claim. (Learn more about car insurance.)
Hold on to your emergency kit. Because you don't know what you'll face driving through storm-damaged areas, keep the emergency kit is in the car. And bring a cell phone; the drive can be a good time to recharge your personal electronic devices.
Keep speeds low, courtesy high. This has been a stressful time for everyone in the hurricane zone, so travel slowly—you never know what obstacles you may face—and be extra patient. Be kind to others, be predictable, and follow the laws.
Avoid driving through standing water. During most storms, a puddle is just an opportunity to splash, but after a hurricane or heavy storm, it can conceal deep potholes and tire-puncturing debris. And what appear to be puddles can actually be deep pools of water. Never drive into water of unknown depth.
Avoid driving under fallen trees. Many of them are resting across power lines. While it may be tempting to drive under a tree that is arching over the road, don't do it. It may look safe, but mere chance is what’s holding the tree in its position. Further, power lines may or may not have electricity coursing through them. Even if you avoid driving on the lines, a wind gust could blow an unseen wire into contact with your car.
Don't assume road debris is just sticks and leaves. Many roads will be covered with all manner of plant debris from the winds, but within that mess can be nails and other objects unfriendly to tires. Keep in mind, traveling just after a storm, you have a higher likelihood of experiencing a flat tire.
Keep brakes dry. After driving through large puddles, lightly apply the brake pedal to dry the brakes off. Wet brakes can take longer to slow a vehicle.
Beware of dark stop lights and intersections. With many areas still without power, intersections that are normally well lighted and/or have traffic lights may be dark. Don't see this as an opportunity to speed on through. Exercise caution and courtesy. There may be line workers present, pedestrians, or distracted drivers. Come to a complete stop, survey the surroundings, make eye contact with other motorists, and give a friendly wave before advancing.
Watch out for pedestrians. Many people are simply walking their neighborhood’s streets to assess damage, check in on friends, and get a little exercise. People are more likely to be literally in the streets because sidewalks may be blocked, and the reduced vehicle traffic may encourage them to be less cautious.