Summer storms can pose some driving hazards: flash floods, electrical storms and even tornadoes. So before you head out, know how to handle intense weather. First, try to avoid storms. Pay attention to the forecast. If severe weather is expected, it's best to stay home, especially if the National Weather Service has issued warnings. But if you're on the road, here's how to deal with three types of hazards.
Getting caught in a tornado is rare, but here's what to do. If you see a twister, leave your car and get to the lowest level of a sturdy building. If that's not possible, get out of your car and lie in a ditch or low area, making sure to cover your head with your arms, says Susan Buchanan, a spokeswoman for the weather service in Silver Spring, Md. Another option is to buckle your seat belt and try to ride out the storm in the car.
Neither are safe options, Buchanan says. You can get hit by debris in a ditch and tornadoes can toss cars into the air.
Don't hide under a highway overpass, because it can become a wind tunnel in a storm. People have been sucked out of them by tornadoes, she says.
Trying to outrun a tornado with your car isn't recommended, unless the funnel is a long distance away. You might think you're heading away from the twister, but it can change direction, and some travel faster than cars. Plus, there may not be a road that goes the right direction to escape.
Lightning and high winds are the principal dangers here. Again, heading into a sturdy building is best, but if that's not an option, it's best to pull off the road to a place away from traffic and wait out the storm in your car. If you can't get off the highway, try to park on the opposite side of a guardrail from traffic, said Bill Van Tassel, manager of driver training programs for AAA.
Staying on the road means you risk sliding in deep puddles. Visibility can get so bad that you can't see other cars. Also, don't touch anything metal inside the car in case lightning strikes.
Be prepared even before you get caught in the rain. Start with wiper blades. If they smear water or skip across the windshield, the rubber is worn out and it's time to replace them. It costs under $10 for two blade refills if you do it yourself. Many stores and garages will install them for free, or a minimal charge. Remember, you need the clearest possible windshield when driving through a storm.
Know the area where you're traveling and avoid spots where rivers and streams cross or run near roads. If the road is flooded, don't drive into it. Turn around and drive in the opposite direction. Van Tassel says it's especially difficult to see water over roads at night. People who drive into flooded roads can get swept downstream by currents.
Make sure your tires are ready for wet roads. It's best to replace them if the tread is less than 1/8 of an inch deep, according to Tire Rack, a mail-order tire store. The tread has to be deep enough for water to get out through the side grooves, otherwise you'll slide on the water.