Changing seasons can bring severe weather, and even though it's not officially summer until June 21, this hasn't prevented Mother Nature from making her presence felt.
Perhaps the best evidence of this is what's taken place in Texas and the surrounding states, as the region was pelted with rain in the closing days of May. Thousands of people had to abandon their homes due to rising flood waters, creating chaos and havoc for those affected.
The Lone Star State is used to this type of thing, though, even though you may not consider Texas to be on par with other parts of the country when it comes to flooding. In reality, the state has the second-highest number of National Flood Insurance Program policies in the country, Florida being the only one with more, according to data from the Insurance Information Institute.
As problematic as the recent flooding has been for home and business owners, it's been similarly nightmarish for motorists. For instance, on May 26 along Interstate 45, dozens of vehicles were stranded due to rising flood waters, touching off a series of automotive accidents. Had motorists been prepared for these dangerous conditions, they might have taken an alternative route or, better yet, not driven at all.
But this isn't always possible, as severe weather never comes at a convenient time. And with the average person driving nearly 15,300 miles per year - according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Transportation - there's a good chance "the big one" might hit while you're on the road, whether "the big one" is a flood, thunderstorm, hurricane, or some other environmental catastrophe.
The following are some tips to keep in mind when the weather doesn't cooperate and you're in the car:
Be storm aware and alert
Thanks to 24-hour news and weather programming, there's no excuse to not know if a storm is brewing. Make it a habit to check the weather forecast every day, so you're never caught by surprise. This alone can help you determine when it's safe to be on the roads or if you should stay inside.
Keep an eye to the sky
Your attention should always be on the road, but as you're looking ahead, take a look at the skyline off in the distance. If dark, puffy clouds are on the horizon - and the forecast is calling for storminess - the skies are bound to open up at any time. If you won't be reaching your intended destination for awhile, you may want to take the next available exit and seek shelter.
Turn headlights on
Of course, it isn't always possible to get off the roads when a storm breaks out while you're driving. In these situations, be sure to have your headlights on so that you can see the road and others can see you. If you have fog lights, turn those on as well. These are better to use than your high beams, which can be blinding to oncoming drivers. In drenching rains, see if you can safely get off the highway or strip of road and park, either in a parking lot or in the breakdown lane if visibility is extremely poor.
Never drive through standing water
One of the biggest mistakes people make when there's flooding is overestimating what their vehicle is capable of. For instance, if a strip of road is cut off by high water levels, don't risk driving through it to see if you can get to the other side. Just six inches of water can cause your car to lift, leaving you unable to control the car. Seek out an alternative route or go back to where you came from.
Stop at all intersections
If there's an electricity outage, stop lights at intersections won't be working. You should always approach intersections cautiously, even if you have a green light, but when the power is out, be sure to come to a stop to avoid an accident.
Prepare a supplies kit
You never know what you're going to need in severe weather situations. That's why it's always a good idea to keep an emergency kit in the vehicle at all times. These should include all the things that you think can come in handy when there's an urgent situation. Jumper cables and flares are good to have for the car's maintenance, but you should also have health supplies. First-aid items like bandages, gauze, scissors, and ointment are important. Also, have packaged food items on hand that are resistant to spoilage. A blanket and change of clothing are nice to have for cold, wet conditions.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has some other tips for driving in severe weather, as does the American Red Cross. Familiarize yourself with them so that you'll always be ready when conditions turn sour.