The gas gauge was nearing empty. Visibility was nil and the car was close to overheating. All I saw was bumper-to-bumper traffic, disabled cars, flooded intersections, detours, accidents and irate drivers. My 45-minute commute had lasted more than three hours — and there was no way to reach my worried daughter waiting at home.
Think I'm describing the recent ice storm debacle in Atlanta? No, this was a hellacious business commute from Tampa to Seminole in the late 1980s after three days of torrential rain. While my experience was less of a nightmare than the recent Atlanta mess, it was just as nerve-racking and dangerous. And it taught me a big lesson: Be prepared.
Today, the same commute with the same weather conditions would be even worse. More vehicles clog our highways, more workers commute over our bridges and visitors are on the road year-round.
So here are some common-sense commuting tips to remember:
Business owners and managers
• Have an emergency plan that includes weather updates. If the weather is really bad, allow employees to stay at home or to leave work early. If necessary, stagger their departures. Also make provisions for stranded employees if they must stay overnight at the office.
• Arrange for someone else to pick up the children from school or day care.
• Have a backup plan for the care of elderly or disabled loved ones.
• Keep enough gas (several hours' worth) in your car.
• Keep your car in top working condition and pay special attention to tires, lights, brakes, hoses and fluids.
• Charge the batteries of your electronic devices. You may need them to communicate or call for help.
• Keep an umbrella and rain gear in the car.
• Keep an emergency kit in the car, not the trunk. In gridlock conditions during bad weather, getting out of your car may not be a good idea. Make sure your kit has a flashlight, first-aid kit, hand sanitizer and emergency food, including energy bars, trail mix and water.
• Plan alternative routes. Knowing which exit to take and which roads are high and dry will lower the stress and get you home faster and safer.
• When bad weather is in the forecast, give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination. If the weather is too bad, stay put.
Marie R. Stempinski is president and founder of Strategic Communication in St. Petersburg. She specializes in public relations, marketing, and business development and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.