Sandstorms or dust storms may seem incredibly cool, but the truth of the matter is that these powerful meteoroidal phenomena are incredibly dangerous and should be avoided at all costs, whether on foot or behind the wheel. When driving in a sandstorm, what should you do? First you must understand the storm itself.
Sandstorms/dust storms are common in arid regions and occur when a gust or other strong wind blows loose the particles of sand or dirt from the dry surface. The saltation that occurs is large enough to recognize or effect an area. It is common for a sandstorm or dust storm to occur after a thunderstorm or other powerful surge that occurs in a neighboring area, in-turn causing large gusts of wind to push the soil particles.
When differentiating the two similar occurrences, Sandstorm is used to pertain to desert situations, such as in the Sahara Desert, or places where sand is a more prevalent soil type than dirt or rock. In addition to this, sandstorms tend to obscure visibility a considerable amount, especially when larger sand particles are blown closer to the surface. Dust Storm is more likely to be used when particles are blown long distances, usually around urban areas. Essentially, a dust storm is thinner because it is spread out over some distance and contains some form of visibility, whereas a full-blown sandstorm may be thick with strong winds that cause a lack of visibility.
These storms can range from a few grains flying through the air and getting in your eyes, to the opaque monsters that can shut down an entire city or airport. While running into the latter may be a bit of a stretch here in the US, it could still be beneficial to know what to do if you’re ever stuck in one behind the wheel of your motor vehicle.
Outrunning the Storm
Outrunning the storm may be your first logical thought (depending on what direction you’re driving) and for good reason—you may be able to. Some of the highest recorded sandstorms/dust storms have hit 70+ mph, but more than likely you won’t be dealing with a goliath of a storm such as that. If you’re driving along an urban area with a storm approaching, it is recommended that you seek shelter immediately. However, if you are on a highway and see a storm off in the distance, the chances of you outrunning the storm are incredibly high. DO NOT put yourself at risk with your speed if you attempt to outrun the storm. If the storm proves to be faster than anticipated it would be the most effective and safe for a driver to pull off on an exit or off the highway in general and prepare for the impending raucous; once a storm envelopes a vehicle, within seconds it is possible to lose all visibility. (If you’re unable to see a few hundred feet in-front of you, jump to the next suggestion on this list.) This dangerous possibility would have you driving blind and the risk of an accident increases exponentially. If you’re able to outrun the storm at a safe speed and pace, then you’ve had quite the exciting day now, haven’t you?
Another option is an expedited alternative to outrunning the storm and that is just to simply pull the vehicle over and waiting out the storm. As previously stated, if the storm seems like it’s coming up quickly, attempt to pull the vehicle over, ideally off of an exit where you can safely park and not be bothered by any other vehicles. Wherever you’re able to stop, apply your parking break and turn off your headlights, break lights, and signal lights; only use your hazard lights while driving cautiously and incredibly slow if you’re unable to pullover (do not apply this method when driving in the rain). Use the road’s centerline if you can’t see in front of yourself, and let it guide you until you can find a feasible place to pull over. Make sure all of your lights are off when you’re stationed on the road or side of the road, even your interior lights, for the safety of other drivers that may or may not be using you as a guide through the storm.
Taking Cover or Shelter
Now, if you’ve pulled over, the biggest mistake is to get out of the vehicle. Only do so if it is absolutely necessary. Roll up the windows, make sure no door is ajar, and turn off all of your vents that intake outside air. As this is an unexpected occurrence, you may not have a lot of supplies for the situation, so just sit tight and wait for the storm to end. Unlike the Middle East, Africa, or Central Asia, American sandstorms in the southwest and Mexico should only last for a few minutes, at the very most an hour. If something has occurred that causes you to step foot outside and into the storm, make sure that you can mask your face by putting a mask over your nose and mouth will help to block small particulates from entering your system. More than likely, you will not have a respirator mask, so use a shirt, cloth, bandana or something else of that nature and moisten it a little bit as to trap the particulates. Make sure your nostrils aren’t exposed, as they can dry quickly and will lead to trouble breathing. The next concern is your eyes. Goggles are the easiest way to protect them. Glasses will not help much but can be useful if you don’t have access to goggles. Wrap your cloth around your ears as well, and make sure only a small slit is available for your eyes to maintain vision. If push comes to shove, put something like a purse or backpack in front of your face and look down towards your feet to gain some sort of visual guidance.