As professional truck drivers, we experience a range of severe weather. This is especially true if you run a longer route through several states. It It is not unusual for truckers to drive straight through a blizzard in the mountains right into dry, windy plains all in one day.
If you are driving a truck professionally, it’s essential that you be aware of the weather patterns in the areas where you will be traveling. This will help you plan ahead and work your route accordingly.
Bad weather for truckers can cause anything from inconvenience, delays, major accidents, interstate shutdowns and in some cases, death, especially if four wheelers are involved.
Here are some tips truckers should know about dealing with dangerous weather conditions.
What Truckers Should Know About Dealing With Dangerous Weather Conditions
1. Freezing Rain
For me, personally, the worst type of weather to drive in is freezing rain.
I have a gauge in my truck to monitor outside temperature at all times. I can see when the outside air temperature is dropping, and thus when rain is turning to ice.
I find this is the most challenging and dangerous situation when behind the wheel, as it can be near impossible to keep control of the truck.
My advice to truckers is when you see ice starting to form on your mirrors or windshield, or your gauge is telling you the outside temperature is dropping, get off the road right away. Do not wait to see if things improve.
Find a safe place to exit the road and park until conditions improve. Unfortunately, the road conditions during freezing rain are highly unpredictable. This is when you may experience patches of black ice and low visibility. It is better to pull over and wait it out than risk jackknifing.
Related > How to Handle a Jack Knife Skid
2. Heavy Snow
If the weather forecast predicts heavy snow, you should have tire chains onboard. If the weather turns really ugly, you must be prepared to get off the road and land.
Be sure you have extra warm clothing and some food onboard, in case you are stuck on the side of the road for a period of time. When a storm goes through and dumps an excess amount of snow, it can be days before the snow plow trucks can clear off the snow and the roads are reopened.
Be sure you fuel up before your trip just in case you get stuck. Hand warmers are a life-saver!
Related Article > 15 Winter Driving Tips for Truckers
3. Strong Wind
If you have ever traveled across I-80 in Wyoming, and there are strong crosswinds, they can be powerful enough to blow a truck off the road.
If you find yourself in strong crosswinds, which is very typical on any of the wide open interstate highways, and your load is exceptionally light-weight, find a safe place to stop.
If possible, head for a truck stop and find a parking spot between two van trailers. This is a good way to protect yourself in a windstorm.
One of the worst experiences I had was on I-40 in the Amarillo area. I was heading east.
I had spent the night in the Petro in Amarillo. In the morning, there was snow blowing across the highway along with very strong crosswinds.
When I left Amarillo, the cross winds had caused ice to form on the snow on the road and turned the road into a skating rink!
In Texas, they rely on God to melt the snow and ice, rather than snow removal equipment!
This was a very challenging drive just to get off the highway safely.
Intense winter storms in these areas are very dangerous. So dangerous, in fact, that they will not hesitate to shut down the highway if the winds are high enough. Even if the roads are open, do what feels safest.
4. Dust Storms
Dust storms, such as those in Arizona on I-10 can be very threatening as well to the professional trucker.
As a professional driver, you need to be aware of what weather is coming your way, in order to prepare for it.
Unfortunately, dust storms are sometimes hard to predict. If you are caught in one, you should pull over and wait it out. Bad ones usually result in road closures so you often won’t have a choice. Keep your windows tightly closed and get some rest until it has passed.
5. Hail Storms
Visibility is affected seriously by a heavy hail storm.
Another risk during a severe hailstorm for truckers is body and windshield damage to the truck.
Avoid using the jake brake during a hailstorm since the roads can be more slippery than they appear.
6. High Heat
Excess heat can be a danger too. High temperatures are hard on a big rig and its optimum operation. It can literally melt the rubber from the tires!
The truck engine will tend to overheat and the fan clutch works over-time. If a driver pushes the truck hard in excess heat conditions, the engine temperature can skyrocket, which can do serious motor damage. You may even find yourself broken down in the desert.
If it’s going to be a seriously hot day, it may be best to park during the hottest part of the day. Then, in the evening when the temperatures have cooled, proceed on your trip.
7. Intense Cold
In the late ’70’s, I had spent the weekend in Fort MacLeod, Alberta. There was another trucker who worked for the same company, an older driver, Ed Innis.
The temperature over the weekend had dropped. The weather was bitter cold. We were on a layover over the weekend, and the company put us up in a hotel.
I had decided to let my truck high idle for the weekend, as I was concerned it wouldn’t start when it was time to start work early Monday morning.
Ed, who was driving a Mack, turned his truck off. His truck was very reliable so he didn’t think it was necessary to leave it running.
On Monday morning, my truck was running and doing well. However, Ed’s truck was frozen solid and would not start.
He had asked me to crank his truck over, while he sprayed ether on it, in order to start it.
Ether is a pretty dangerous substance!
Ed held the spray button too long on the engine! Then suddenly there was a loud BANG!!!!!
That was the end of that poor Mack’s engine. Ed had blown the motor using too much ether!
Ed had confidence in his truck but should have factored in the intense cold. Even a dependable engine can let you down or you can make a mistake that literally blows up on you.
One of the worst experiences I had in bad weather, was shutting down during a small tornado in Nebraska.
When I had departed from Grand Island that morning, the weather report indicated it the tornado wasn’t really expected to amount to much.
Around North Platte, I spotted the tornado. I was aware that a tornado had been spotted in the area, so I was able to pull my truck and trailer under an overpass for cover.
As the tornado approached the overpass, four-wheelers had gathered around my truck and trailer for cover as well.
When the tornado passed through the area, I could see the strong winds tugging on the cars with a suction, trying to pull the cars out!
The lesson here is: Be prepared. Check the weather conditions before departing each morning, so you know what lies ahead. No one likes surprises, especially truck drivers.
Driving in fog has it’s own unique challenges for the trucker. Often fog can be thin and patchy and is not a serious hazard if it’s not a large dense fog bank.
The range of visibility in fog is the deciding factor. When visibility starts to decline, it’s time to find a safe spot to land.
I rarely recommend pulling onto the shoulder of an off ramp, but if necessary, this is better than the should of the road, if the situation is serious.
Avoid stopping on the should of the road if you are able. Your tail lights may confuse traffic behind your truck.
Turn on your flashers and get off the road as soon as you can safely.
Safe Trucker Weather Tip: Check Your Weather Reports & Conditions
At one time, I ran a weather scanner in my truck. However, a Michigan state trooper saw my antenna and pulled me over. They confiscated my weather scanner as they said, if I was able to scan for weather channels, I could probably also scan police channels as well, which is illegal. I lost a weather scanner to Michigan.
There are CB radios with built-in weather scanners now. The Cobra 29 has a weather scanner. There are also weather apps you can download onto your phone. Although, I would download several to see which ones provide the most accurate information.
My biggest piece of advice is if you hear of a weather report or see seriously bad weather, you may be safer to ride out the storm where you are parked, such as in a truck stop or rest area.
Once out on the road, there may be no safe place to land. This can be a very dangerous situation for a trucker.
Your dispatcher may be unhappy with your decision to stay put and delay your progress. However, dispatchers seem to be upset a lot anyway! Remember, professional truck drivers are protected under the STAA to refuse to drive if the weather is bad. Safety First!
Make Safety Your Priority for All Weather Conditions
Safety is the number one issue no matter what the weather. As a professional truck driver, it is solely your decision whether you proceed or stay parked if the conditions are threatening.
It is not the dispatcher’s responsibility to make the decision whether you stay or proceed. It is your responsibility to keep yourself, truck, trailer, and load safe as well as others on the road.
If there’s a major accident due to a bad decision on your part, the authorities will be pointing the finger at you, not your dispatcher. Remember this. Protect yourself and others.
There are many more terrible weather conditions for truckers but these were on the top of my list from experience.
I’ve learned that there is no point in taking risks and trying to race a storm.
ALWAYS, ALWAYS be aware of the weather reports. Be prepared for the weather. You may be confident in your skills or your truck but over-confidence can lead to an accident. Err on the side of caution and stay safe out there!