What should I do if I drive into sudden extreme conditions?

We are always told to keep off the road and stay at home when a sudden extreme weather change like a storm is forecasted. Thanks to the advanced technologies, there are many kinds of apps that can keep you informed of the latest weather conditions and help you to avoid or prepare for the dangerous weather situations. For example, Weather alert apps make it easier than ever to avoid driving in dangerous conditions, or to get caught in storms, such as hurricanes and blizzards. The Red Cross has apps for specific dangerous weather situations you might encounter.
But Mother Nature sometimes takes even the best informed and prepared of us by surprise. Here’s expert advice on what to do if you get caught on the road in the following short-warning, extreme weather and natural disaster scenarios:
Dust Storms
In the desert Southwest, particularly in Arizona and New Mexico, thunderstorms can produce blinding dust storms. Though dust storms can occur at any time of year, the most likely time is during the region’s monsoon season, from June 15 to September 30.
What to look for: When thunderstorms are developing and when they are dying out, they send a rush of cold air toward the desert floor. The rushing air pushes dust into a cloud, forming a wall known as a haboob. The result is often little or no visibility for drivers, as shown in this video from the Arizona Department of Transportation.
“Dust storms can develop very quickly,” says Doug Nintzel, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation. “It’s important that drivers keep their eye on the horizon, looking for any sign of a dust storm, because that’s when you should be taking action to exit the highway and wait the storm out, rather than pushing ahead and hitting the storm.”
What to do: In recent years, motorists who ignored warning signs and headed into dust storms wound up in chain-reaction crashes along Arizona highways. That prompted the state’s transportation department to develop a comprehensive safety awareness campaign. “Our top recommendation is to avoid driving into or through a dust storm,” Nintzel says.
If you suddenly find yourself in a dust storm, follow the three “offs” of the department’s “Pull Aside, Stay Alive” campaign.
First, turn off all your lights. “You don’t want drivers thinking you’re the car to follow as they are making their way through the dust,” Nintzel says.
Second, pull completely off the pavement. “You want to do so as quickly as possible, but it’s important to pull as far off the highway pavement as possible,” Nintzel says. This will help you stay out of any chain-reaction crashes.
Third, after pulling off the road, put on your parking brake, but take your foot off the brake pedal. That way, your brake lights are not illuminated and other motorists will not follow the light and drive into you. Don’t put on any interior lights or emergency flashers either, Nintzel advises.
“Dust storms tend to pass by rather quickly,” he says. “So this is the best advice we can suggest: Keep your seatbelt on and be prepared to wait out the storm.”
Blinding Rain and Dense Fog
Torrential downpours can come with short warning, especially in summer. Fog can create low- or zero-visibility conditions that make driving hazardous.
What to do: When heavy rain or fog catches you by surprise, the first thing you should do is slow down. “A lot of the advice is just common sense. Slow down. Be patient. Allow extra time to get to your destination,” says AAA’s Calkins.
Allow yourself enough space so you can stop safely. “That may mean going 5 or 10 miles an hour,” says Calkins. “If the roads are slippery and they have water on them, your stopping distances are going to increase.”
Also, keep your distance from other motorists, particularly larger vehicles and semi-trucks, whose large wheels can throw a lot of spray onto your windshield, making visibility difficult.
When it comes to blinding rain and dense fog, you want to see and be seen, AAA recommends. “You have to have good vision, and you have to do whatever you can to make your vehicle conspicuous to other motorists on the road,” says Calkins.
While Florida law requires motorists to turn on their headlights during rain, not all states do.
Regardless of the law, the best advice for both blinding rain and dense fog is to put headlights on low beam, Calkins says. Front foglamps can also increase your visibility. “They definitely help by producing a lower, flatter beam of light on the road’s surface that helps you pick out road markings, Calkins says.
If you have rear foglights, which are standard in many higher-end cars from European makers, put those on as well. “What they are is an extra bright set of taillights that are more easily visible by the cars behind you,” explains Calkins.
And if you have a pair of polarized sunglasses handy, put those on. “It doesn’t work with every pair of sunglasses, and not the real dark ones. But a light tint or yellow-tinted driving glasses can sometimes help with your visual acuity under these driving conditions,” Calkins says.
To avoid fogged windows inside your car during heavy rainfalls, run the heat and air-conditioning simultaneously. “That combination will defrost your window really well,” says Calkins. “It will dehumidify the air coming into the car so it will help eliminate condensation.”
Rolling down the window while driving in fog may help you hear what you can’t see. “Today’s cars tend to be very quiet,” says Calkins. “Rolling down the window might give you more information to what’s happening out there. If you hear squealing or crunching noises, you should definitely put on the brakes.”
In these zero-visibility situations, finding a safe spot to pull off the road — with at least a 2-foot clearance — remains the best advice, he says. “Better to make it to your destination late than to not make it.”
What not to do: Don’t put on your high beams, which can scatter light and bounce it off rain and fog droplets, further decreasing your visibility and blinding oncoming motorists. And don’t put on your four-way flashers/emergency lights, which are illegal to use in most of the country as you drive. Put on your emergency flashers only when you’ve pulled safely off the road.