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A trucker’s guide to staying safe while on the road during severe weather

It has been a rough few months with regard to the weather in the U.S., as states have borne vicious snowstorms, with some regions seeing days comparable with Antarctica-like temperatures. And if you happened to be in Alabama or Georgia last weekend, you may have witnessed terrible calamity in the wake of deadly tornadoes that hit Sunday afternoon.

But despite such extreme weather conditions, the logistics “machinery” must never stop. Rain or shine, truckers go about picking up and delivering freight, staying behind the wheel even when the highways take a battering.

“What occurred in Alabama and Georgia is devastating and something that can happen suddenly in any area of the U.S. prone to this type of weather. This is why it’s important to consistently communicate with drivers about preventative, safe driving tips because we can’t control the weather regardless of how much we monitor it,” said Marilena Acevedo, Vice President of Human Resources at PetroChoice.

The best way to navigate terrible weather is to not be in it. That being said, fleets need to keep checking the radar and weather reports for any indication of a potential weather catastrophe, and if something turns up, it is important to postpone the haul or take an alternate route to the destination, if one is available. Checking weather forecasts is critical, rather than trusting the currently cloudless blue skies to last the whole journey. There are several instances in which sunny days gave way to terrible weather within a few hours, with drivers forced to take shelter and leaving vehicles stranded on the road.

“It is important for drivers to be educated on warning signs they should watch for and to communicate with their dispatchers as soon as they hear or see any signs of inclement weather,” said Acevedo.

Warning signs could be an abrupt and dramatic change in the wind, a combination of a heavy downpour followed by a large gust of wind, or a prolonged rumbling noise that mimics thunder but goes on longer than usual. Acevedo insisted that it is crucial for drivers to “over-communicate” with their dispatchers if they spot anything that seems off. “The dispatcher can take a closer look and report back if there’s an anomaly. The severity of a storm can increase in the blink of an eye, so it’s better to over-communicate,” she said.

“It’s important that drivers understand the language associated with storms and know the difference between a tornado watch, which means to keep vigilant and be prepared, to a tornado warning, which means that a tornado has been spotted, and for drivers to get off the road and take cover immediately,” Acevedo continued.

It is critical for drivers to know or spot places that could provide secure shelter. The rule of thumb is to stay away from structures – anything that could cause harm if it moves around – for example, roof-tiled houses, tree-covered spaces or overpasses. Ideally, a ravine or a ditch beneath ground-level would be a much better spot for shelter. If unable to find a decent place to take cover, it would be better to drive to the safest possible place, and out of the path of the tornado, park and stay put within the vehicle – seat-belts on and crouching down away from the windows.

“It’s essential to assess your surroundings, and if it’s clear to do so, drive in the opposite direction of the tornado and take shelter when you find a good spot,” said Acevedo. “Before hitting the road, have a plan with your team on where you can seek shelter should you encounter inclement weather during your haul. It’s important you have this plan with you before you leave, because again, weather is unpredictable and can escalate quickly.”