Regardless of where you stand on global warming or climate change or the Mayan apocalypse, there's no denying that the weather seems to have gotten especially wacky in the past few years. Extremely powerful tornadoes are touching down willy-nilly, and the hurricane season seems to last all year. It's only a matter of time before we finally reach hurricane Zelda.
Besides torrential rains, snow measured in fathoms, and storm names based on video game characters, wacky weather comes with wind. Lots of wind. It can blow strong and steady, or it can gust and wreak havoc in three-second bursts. But no matter what kind of wind you're dealing with (unless it's a gentle sea breeze that makes the palm trees sway like hula dancers), it is not delightful to have to drive in it.
Let's take a look at 5 things to do when driving in high winds that will earn you a coveted entry on FailBlog.
Whether the wind is steady or gusting, as long as it's strong, it will have an effect on any trailer out there. Tractor trailers, campers, boats -- as long as it's being pulled along the road, the wind can push it around.
Think about it: The trailer has no power of its own to turn its wheels or slow down. It is attached to the truck towing it at one little point: the hitch. It usually has big, tall, square sides that are the exact opposite of aerodynamic. The wind isn't going to come at the trailer in a polite, aerodynamic way either; it's going to shove against it from the side, like a bully.
This is the point where, if you want to do it wrong, you're going to try to draft behind that trailer in front of you on the road. Get really close, so that the nose of your vehicle is nearly tucked under the bumper of the trailer. This is a poor practice on the best of calm, sunny days, but on a very windy day, it's downright dunderheaded.
For extra dunderhead points, pull out real quick-like from that drafting position and try to pass the whole rig as it sways in the breeze. See where that gets you. (Hint: It does not get you positioned perfectly and safely in the center of the lane.)
You know how when someone sets a speed record, officials will note along with the time if there was a wind at his or her back? Like maybe the driver got a little extra something out of it? Well, if a little wind is good for sending the needle around the speedometer, a lot is probably awesome.
If you can see the storm coming, with black clouds on the horizon and maybe some flashes of lightning, you're golden. You're going to out-drive the storm. Pay no attention to the fact that your car has 115-horsepower on a good day, or that it's an ancient diesel Volkswagen bus that can't out-run a newborn kitten. You've got this!
The danger here -- not that you're afraid of danger -- is that when the wind pushes you off-course at speed, there's no time to make a correction. Wherever the wind says you're going, you'll go there. Also, any corrections you attempt to make will tend to be over corrections, sending you in the opposite direction very fast. So, go for it!
What's good for supermodels is great for tipping vehicles over in the wind: the taller and skinnier, the better.
Imagine a low-slung supercar like a Lamborghini and a full-sized van circa 1976. Maybe the van has wolves airbrushed on the side in your imagination, maybe it does not. Set these vehicles on a highway in Iowa with a storm on its way and the wind whipping like Indiana Jones keeping snakes at bay.
The Lamborghini doesn't have any surface for the wind to push against; each panel has been made aerodynamically slippery, so the wind glides past. Also, it's so close to the ground that downforce helps keep it stuck to the road.
The van, on the other hand, has loads of surface for the wind to whip against. Passengers inside can feel the whole thing rock down the highway. They can probably also hear the airbrushed wolves howling (but then again, that may just be inside their heads). There's plenty of clearance under that van, so downforce isn't going to help at all.
The lesson? Buy a Lamborghini immediately. It's a safety issue.
You've spent hours at the wheel, practicing your slides, your left-foot braking and your slingshot out of the corners maneuver. Granted, the wheel was hooked up to your Xbox, and your maneuvers come courtesy of Dirt and Forza 4.
But now it's time to put those moves to the test. You probably noticed, since the game engineers spent a lot of time making sure the driver feedback was true to life, that turning and braking require a lot of traction. Driving in a straight line could be done on sheets of plywood instead of tires, but turning and braking require rubber to grip the road.
High wind reduces friction. It causes your car to lift a bit, it shoves the car off its line and it often comes with buckets of water falling from the sky making the road really wet. Rather than taking the safe and sane route of driving carefully, with both hands on the wheel and your eyes scanning for debris, see if you can make the highway into your very own Nürburgring or Talladega Superspeedway. Because video games and real life are pretty much the same thing, right?
So you couldn't outrun the storm in your little four-cylinder economy car -- that's okay! You can still drive completely irresponsibly in the wind!
Remember that wind often brings sopping wet storms with it. Those storms come on fast and fill up gutters and creeks and ditches with a quickness. Take advantage of all that murky water and drive straight into it. Don't let up on the gas pedal either! How's a person supposed to hydroplane if they aren't going fast enough to skim across the water's surface? The wind can only help here. Once you've lost traction and your car is skating across the water, a nice burst of high-speed wind can take your car where the wind wants it to go.
If you've tried any of these truly terrible ways to drive in the wind and find yourself stuck in a ditch, please stay there while the rest of us try to drive slowly and safely to the next parking lot where we can wait out the storm like intelligent drivers. We'll call a tow truck for you. Eventually.
Do you hold your breath when you're driving through a tunnel? HowStuffWorks looks at a survey exploring driving superstitions.
Author's Note: 5 Completely Wrong Ways to Drive in High Winds
It would have been easy -- and incredibly dull -- to write these tips in a straightforward way. "Be safe," "Don't Drive Too Fast," "Wind is Unpredictable." These are things that anyone with half a brain can put together. However, being able to write it from the Mr. Don't Bee point of view, rather than the Mr. Do Bee angle, made it a lot more fun. I was still able to deliver the important information drivers need to stay safe, but I also got to point out that some people (though certainly not you or me, intelligent people that we are) do really dumb things when a storm with high winds is on its way.
- Top 10 Safe Driving Tips
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- How Car Insurance Works
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- California Department of Motor Vehicles. "Defensive Driving Techniques for All Drivers." (March 7, 2012) http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/dl648/dl648pt8.htm
- DrivingTestSuccess.com. "How to Drive Safely in Strong Winds." (March 7, 2012) http://www.driving-test-success.com/driving-articles/driving-strong-winds.htm
- Law Offices of Michael Pines. "High Winds." SeriousAccidents.com. (March 7, 2012) http://seriousaccidents.com/legal-advice/top-causes-of-car-accidents/high-winds/
- Newton, Argonne National Laboratory. US Department of Energy. Ask a Scientist! "Driving Safely and Wind Direction." (March 7, 2012)http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/phy00/phy00233.htm
- State Farm. "Severe Weather Driving." Jan. 6, 2010. (March 7, 2012) http://learningcenter.statefarm.com/safety-2/severe-weather-1/severe-weather-driving/
- The Weather Channel. "Driving Safety Tips: High Winds." (March 7, 2012) http://www.weather.com/activities/driving/drivingsafety/drivingsafetytips/winds.html