Eye of the storm: UAB expert offers tips on staying safe for when severe weather strikes while on the road

Stay safe on the road when severe weather strikes by following these tips from a UAB expert.

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Photography: Andrea Mabry
Spring is synonymous with severe weather season in the Southeast. As April is the month with the most recorded tornado warnings in Alabama, Benjamin McManus, Ph.D., assistant director of the Translational Research for Injury Prevention — TRIP — Laboratory at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, offers tips for staying safe when caught in the middle of a storm.

Plan and react accordingly

Vigilance and proper planning are essential to ensuring safety when severe weather is expected.

“If severe weather is forecast, it is always safer to stay off the roads,” McManus said. “Weather-related crashes account for about 20 percent of all crashes. Of those, 70 percent occur when the roads are wet.”

McManus encourages having an emergency plan in place to remain prepared for severe weather.

“If your planned travel coincides with forecasts of potential bad weather, if possible, time your drive differently,” McManus said. “Identify places that would be safe to pull over or take shelter along your route.”

When weather is ideal, utilize daily commutes to explore alternative routes to help avoid traffic jams for when bad weather occurs.

Severe weather will always impact driver safety, primarily through visibility and roadway friction.

“If you must drive, do so with caution and with decreased speed because hydroplaning is possible while driving at speeds as low as about 35 mph whenever rain and oil residue from the roadway mix,” McManus said. 

McManus says, with lower visibility and thus reduced reaction times, it is always a best practice to allot more room in between vehicles.

“In wet conditions, you want to avoid sudden movements with the vehicle, including sudden braking and steering movements,” he said.

Proper preparation saves lives

Keeping an emergency kit in the car can be extremely beneficial in the event that the unexpected occurs.

“This kit should have the emergency essentials, including a first aid kit, a flashlight, extra clothes and even your regular prescription medication,” McManus said. “Since so many injuries and deaths involve head and neck trauma in severe weather, having a helmet in the car could be a potential lifesaver.”

The UAB Department of Emergency Management has prepared checklists of items to stock an emergency kit in preparation for the onset of severe weather.

Take shelter

The National Weather Service has renewed StormReady status for the University of Alabama at Birmingham, recognizing its commitment to safety and emergency preparation for hazardous weather events.

McManus explains, when caught near or in a tornado specifically, knowing how to properly take shelter can potentially save lives.

“Avoid stopping under a bridge because the high winds can actually be funneled through these and render the area under the bridge even more dangerous than being in the open,” McManus said. “When indoors, you want to get as low as possible. If you are in your car, get below window level and cover your head with a blanket, your hands or anything that may protect your head. If you can safely exit the car to get to an even lower area, do so, lie in that lower area and cover your head.”