AAA Kansas and KHP offer tips for staying safe when severe weather strikes
Submitted by Shawn Steward
Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer has declared the week of March 5-9 “Severe Weather Awareness Week” in the state. As many people in this part of the country are aware, strong thunderstorms and even tornadoes can strike quickly and fiercely. Dangerous, damaging storms can catch motorists on the roads, so AAA Kansas and the Kansas Highway Patrol urge drivers and their passengers to be prepared and take appropriate safety precautions should they face severe weather while traveling in a vehicle.
“Storms are common across the Sunflower State throughout the spring and summer, so chances are, drivers will face storm-related challenges while in their vehicles,” said Jennifer Haugh, AAA Kansas spokeswoman. “A vehicle can either be very dangerous or a place of safety, depending on the weather conditions. The key is being prepared for severe weather and reacting the right way to what Mother Nature throws at you.”
Heavy Rain and Flooding
Heavy downpours make it difficult to see while driving. AAA Kansas recommends regularly changing windshield wiper blades to keep drivers’ views as clear as possible. If visibility is severely limited during heavy rain, drivers should reduce their speed and if they can safely do so, pull off the road out of traffic lanes, turn on flashing hazard lights, and wait until the rain lightens.
Drivers should be reminded that it’s Kansas law that if windshield wipers are on, headlights should be as well. Headlights can help drivers see better but also allow their vehicle to be seen by other drivers.
Pooling water on roadways can cause hydroplaning and loss of vehicle control, so motorists should reduce their speeds during rainy conditions. Roadways completely covered by water are a particular danger.
“Avoid driving in floodwater,” warned Trooper Don Hughes of the Kansas Highway Patrol. “Flooding causes more deaths than any other storm-related event, and many of those deaths occur in vehicles. As little as 12 inches of moving water can sweep most vehicles off the road. The slogan ‘Turn around, don’t drown’ is an important one to remember and follow.”
Hailstorms hit with little warning and usually only last for about five minutes, but hailstones – frozen pellets of rain – can cause major damage in that short period of time.
There were 5,601 major hailstorms in the U.S. in 2016, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Most hailstones are about the size of a pea or marble, but they can get as large as a softball in a severe storm.
“Hail of most any size can dent your car, and larger stones can smash your windows,” said Alex Greig, insurance manager for AAA Kansas. “And this is not an uncommon occurrence in Kansas. Fortunately, hail damage to a vehicle is covered by your comprehensive auto insurance policy, which covers physical damage to your vehicle not caused by a collision.”
To protect your car from the inevitable Kansas hail storms, park your car in a covered spot whenever possible.
If you’re in your car when a hailstorm hits and see a safe place close-by, such as a highway overpass or gas station or bank awning, drive to it as soon as you can. If no shelter is available and hail becomes large enough to cause damage, stop driving and pull off the road completely. Move away from car windows and cover your head with your arms and hands to protect yourself from any breaking glass.
The National Weather Service reports that lightning strikes about 25 million times a year, killing an average of 49 people in the United States and severely injuring hundreds more.
If you are caught outside during a thunderstorm, seek shelter in a hard-topped vehicle, or a low area, such as a tunnel. If you are already in your car when a lightning storm begins, stay in the vehicle for shelter, but steer clear of fences, isolated trees, telephone poles, power lines and pipelines.
Lightning-caused damage to a vehicle is typically covered under the comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy, Greig said.
Thunderstorms can sometimes have other impacts to vehicles, including:
• Damage caused by falling trees due to high winds. This kind of damage is typically covered by standard auto insurance policies. However, if the tree was known to be weak before the storm, the damage may not be covered.
• A wildfire that results from a lightning storm can cause damage to cars. Insurance coverage for wildfire, even if caused by lightning, is included in the comprehensive coverage of an auto insurance policy.
NOAA reports that the United States is the most tornado-prone country in the world, with about 1,000 tornadoes touching down each year. There were 60 documented tornadoes in Kansas in 2017.
Tornado warnings mean danger is imminent. If a tornado has been sighted, move to the safest place possible.
“If you are in your car and a tornado is close, abandon the vehicle and seek shelter in a sturdy structure,” said Trooper Hughes of the Kansas Highway Patrol. “If no structure is nearby, seek shelter in the nearest ditch. Lie flat, face-down on the ground, and protect the back of your head with your arms. Stay away from trees and cars.”
Both AAA Kansas and the Kansas Highway Patrol recommend that motorists create a spring/summer severe weather emergency kit to carry in their cars. The kit should include items such as nonperishable food/snacks and water, tool kit, flashlight, hand-crank or battery-powered radio, extra batteries, cell phone and charger, first-aid supplies, flares or reflectors, rain coat or poncho, a towel or blanket, and rain boots or an extra pair of shoes.