Many of us living in the northern latitudes of North America are accustomed to driving in snowstorms. We usually know beforehand when they will arrive and have the choice to decide whether or not we want to chance the drive in the storm or stay off the roads.
Honey, that’s not a snowstorm ahead!
Those who live or spend vacation time in the Southwestern USA experience a somewhat similar, but different weather phenomenon. Dust storms!
Is driving in a dust storm the same as driving in a snowstorm?
No! It’s not the same. One major difference is that a dust storm will hit without warning and it instantly reduces driver visibility to near-zero. Some motorists will continue to drive through the storm with hopes the visibility conditions will improve in the not too far distance. Unfortunately, similar to a snowstorm, when a dust storm occurs the last place you want to be is on the road!
Pull over and turn your lights off
Here are a few dust storm related safe driving tips from the US National Weather Service.
- If at all possible, don’t enter into the vicinity of a dust storm.
- If you experience thick dust blowing across a roadway, pull your vehicle safely off the roadway as far as you possibly can. Stop the vehicle, turn off all the lights, set the emergency brake, and take your foot off of the brake pedal. This is to ensure the taillights aren’t illuminated.
- Check that all your lights are turned off once you are parked. Approaching vehicles from the rear might use your car’s tail-lights as a guide. They may try to follow you and ram into your parked vehicle.
- Keep your car radio on for emergency preparedness and storm status updates.
- If you can’t pull off the roadway, proceed at a slower speed suitable for your visibility. Turn on your lights and occasionally sound the horn. Use the painted centerline as a guide but continue to be on the lookout for a safe place to pull off the roadway.
- Never ever stop directly on the roadway.
- Once the dust storm passes, check your vehicle, even if it was only parked in your driveway. Make sure to check;
- the windshield: dust storms carry small rocks and other materials that can crack or chip your windshield,
- the radiator and front grill: obstructions can cause engine overheating,
- the air filter: dust and grit will clog it.
A force to be reckoned with
Dust storms are common in Arizona and typically occur between the months of May and September. The Arizona Department of Transportation provides information about dust storms in the following videos. Check these out, they are nothing like the snowstorms we are familiar with here in Canada!
Dust Storm Awareness – Fascinating time lapse and dash cam footage of approaching storms.
Pull Aside Stay Alive – Simple tips to remember when driving in a dust storm.
Never assume weather conditions won’t change when driving under a sunny desert sky. And if you think you’re an expert driver in a snowstorm that you’ll be an expert driver in a dust storm ….. think again! They are a different animal!
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