WASHINGTON, D. C. (Monday, July 22, 2019) –– Commuters and area residents are urged to use common sense and to take extra precautions as severe and volatile weather swoops into the Washington metro area. The weather forecast is calling for severe thunderstorms this afternoon and into the night, at least until 10 p.m. Compounding matters, it is accompanied by a flash flooding watch. The first wave of storms downed wires on Interstate 270, which conveys nearly 270,000 vehicles per day, blocking traffic in both directions “between Clarksburg (Exit 18) and Hyattstown/MD 109 (Exit 22),” at the height of the late afternoon rush hour. Commuters are warned to “expect delays, seek alternate routes.”
It is going to be a bumpy ride. Violent thunderstorms, terrible, swift lightning, which is hotter than the surface of the sun, torrential downpours and flash flooding are all in the weather forecast, and each weather element can spawn life-threatening conditions. “Too many people wait far too long to get to a safe place when thunderstorms approach,” weather forecasters warns. Driving during a severe storm presents a real challenge.
Even a relatively small amount of water on the roadway can be very dangerous. Nearly 800,000 crashes occur on wet roads each year in the United States, cautions AAA Mid-Atlantic. In wet conditions, tires can completely lose contact with the road and skid, also known as hydroplaning. The depth of a tire’s tread plays a significant role: the lower the tread depth, the more likely a car will hydroplane.
“Thunderstorms also produce tornadoes and dangerous lightning; heavy rain can cause flash flooding,” warns the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “Lightning strikes the United States about 25 million times a year,” warns the National Weather Service.
This month, Washingtonians have seen the risks posed by flash-flooding, which trapped some people in flooded cars, cautions AAA Mid-Atlantic. A mere six inches of fast-moving flood water can knock over an adult as well as carry away some vehicles. As a result, the water could cause your car to stall by either entering your tail-pipe or directly flooding your engine.
“A stalled car in rising water can put the occupants in immediate peril as the doors of the vehicle become difficult to open with the weight of the rising water pushing on them,” emergency responders caution. “It is extremely difficult to open the door of a fully submerged vehicle until the car completely fills with water. This situation will often lead to drowning.”
If you come to an area that is covered with water, you will not know the depth of the water or the condition of the ground under the water. This is especially true at night, when your vision is limited. Whether driving or walking, any time you come to a flooded road, “Turn Around, Don’t Drown.”
Conditions are most dangerous during the first 10 minutes of a heavy downpour as oil and debris first rise to the road’s surface, then wash away. Knowing how to handle poor traction reduces the potential for hydroplaning, skidding or sliding off the road completely.
Prepare your car in advance. Before the rain hits, replace windshield wipers that streak or don’t clear glass in a single swipe; make sure headlights, taillights, brake lights and turn signals are properly functioning so other drivers will see you during downpours; make sure vehicle is up-to-date on vehicle manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations including tire tread depth and tire pressure.
- Buckle up. Make sure you and all your passengers are wearing seatbelts including children in proper child safety seats based on their weight and age.
- Don’t drive distracted. Adjust mirrors, seats and other settings before your start the vehicle. Also don’t’ be distracted by mobile devices, music, eating or other passengers.
- Turn around if road is covered with water. The foremost reason the reason many people drown during flooding is because they don’t realize the incredible power of water, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service.
- Allow more travel time. Plan to drive at a slower pace than normal when the roads are wet. Being in a rush puts you at a higher risk for being in a collision.
- Keep your windshield and windows clean. It’s important to clean the inside of your windows. If the glass gets foggy, open a window slightly and turn the defroster fan to a higher speed. Use your air conditioner to reduce humidity.
- Keep headlights clean. When motorists drive on wet streets, mud and dirt can splash onto your headlights, reducing illumination by up to 90 percent. Stop periodically during a long trip to clean your headlights.
- Drive with your daytime running lights or low-beam headlights on at all times – especially on dark or overcast days.
- Recognize a crisis. When visibility is so limited drivers cannot see the edges of the road or other vehicles at a safe distance, the driver should consider pulling off the road and waiting for the rain to ease up. It’s best to stop at a rest area or exit the freeway and go to a protected area. If the roadside is your only option, pull off of the road as far as you can.
- Avoid using cruise control in wet weather driving conditions. This feature works great in dry weather scenarios, but when used in wet conditions the chance of losing control of your vehicle increases.
- Sudden braking often leads to skids. Stopping on a slippery surface requires more distance, so increase your following distance. Focus your attention as far ahead as possible – at least 20 to 30 seconds. Give a truck or bus extra distance.
During a severe thunderstorm watch the “watch area is typically large, covering numerous counties or even states,” explains the National Weather Service. To help drivers brush up on their wet-weather driving, AAA Driver Training offers a free brochure “Get a Grip: A Guide to Wet-Weather Driving Techniques.”
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