Pull Aside, Stay Alive. What Comes Next?

Will you know what to do if you encounter a dust storm?

Pull aside and stay alive!

Phoenix was swallowed-up by a massive 1/4-mile-wide, 2,000-foot-high wall of dust in July 2014. (Source: Sportsmans Guide)

Phoenix was swallowed-up by a massive 1/4-mile-wide, 2,000-foot-high wall of dust in July 2014. (Source: Sportsmans Guide)

Avoid driving into or through a dust storm.

You know not to drive into the towering wall of dust. And if a dust channel whips across a highway and engulfs your vehicle, the mantra “Pull Aside, Stay Alive” can lead you to safety.

If you encounter a dust storm, immediately check traffic around your vehicle (front, back, and to the side) and begin slowing down.

That doesn’t look great for the lungs. A foreboding wall of dust moving through Gilbert, Arizona in July of 2012. (Source: EPOD)

That doesn’t look great for the lungs. A foreboding wall of dust moving through Gilbert, Arizona in July of 2012. (Source: EPOD)

But even after you’ve pulled aside, one of the most important actions must still be taken—turn off your lights!

Turn off headlights, emergency flashers, dome lights, and take your foot off the brake. Stay buckled up, set the parking brake, go dark and wait for the dust storm to pass.

Here’s why: If you become caught in a dust storm and have pulled off the highway, you’re in a dangerous spot—less dangerous than driving blind on the road, though—and want to hide. You can do that by turning off all vehicle lights. If you leave lights on, drivers behind you might believe you’ve found the way out and follow, crashing into your parked car because low-visibility affects depth perception.

Take cover! A 2011 storm about to smother the city lights of downtown Phoenix. (Source: ChandlerMike)

Take cover! A 2011 storm about to smother the city lights of downtown Phoenix. (Source: ChandlerMike)

The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) has produced 30-second public service announcements—in English and Spanish—on this topic that will air statewide on television and radio throughout monsoon season as part of ADOT’s partnership with the Arizona Broadcasters Association. The PSAs can be viewed on ADOT’s YouTube channel.

As Monsoon Awareness Week (June 10-15, 2018) and the official start of monsoon season began, ADOT reminded drivers of the No. 1 dust-storm driving tip: Do not drive into a dust storm.

A wall of dust enveloped the Phoenix metro area, turning daylight into darkness for more than an hour Monday, July 9, 2018, as a monsoon storm packing thunder and lightning, high winds and sheets of rain grounded flights and damaged property. (Source: CBS News affiliate 3TV/CBS 5)

A wall of dust enveloped the Phoenix metro area, turning daylight into darkness for more than an hour Monday, July 9, 2018, as a monsoon storm packing thunder and lightning, high winds and sheets of rain grounded flights and damaged property. (Source: CBS News affiliate 3TV/CBS 5)

“Road trips are a great way to get out and experience all that Arizona has to offer,” Governor Doug Ducey said.

“If there’s a dust storm in your path, it’s time to take a break from driving. Make the safe and smart decision to delay your travel plans and wait for the storm to pass.”

Towering, dense, blowing dust can drop visibility to zero. Just as dangerous are the small dust channels that whip across roadways in an instant, affording drivers little or no opportunity to avoid them.

Inside a dust storm, Phoenix in August 2016 (Source: Echoes of the Southwest)

Inside a dust storm, Phoenix in August 2016 (Source: Echoes of the Southwest)

In such events, ADOT has developed the following “Pull Aside, Stay Alive” dust storm safety driving tips, which can help travelers survive a storm:

  • Avoid driving into or through a dust storm. If you encounter a dust storm, immediately check traffic around your vehicle (front, back and to the side) and begin slowing down.
  • Do not wait until poor visibility makes it difficult to safely pull off the roadway – do it as soon as possible. Completely exit the highway if you can.
  • Do not stop in a travel lane or in the emergency lane. Look for a safe place to pull completely off the paved portion of the roadway.
  • Turn off all vehicle lights. You do not want other vehicles approaching from behind to use your lights as a guide, possibly crashing into your parked vehicle.
  • Set your emergency brake and take your foot off the brake.
  • Stay in the vehicle with your seat belt buckled and wait for the storm to pass.
A massive dust storm moved through the Phoenix area July 25, 2014 evening, knocking out power to more than 10,000 Salt River Power electricity customers and diverting at least one flight bound for Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. (Source: NBC News)

A massive dust storm moved through the Phoenix area July 25, 2014 evening, knocking out power to more than 10,000 Salt River Power electricity customers and diverting at least one flight bound for Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. (Source: NBC News)

Drivers of high-profile vehicles should be especially aware of changing weather conditions and travel at reduced speeds.

Please Note: This is Part 2 of a 2-part series on Surviving Dust Storms

Part 1: Dust Storm Safety. 5 Ways To Survive.

Worth Pondering…

On the fourteenth day of April in 1935
There struck the worst of dust storms that ever filled the sky…
From Oklahoma City to the Arizona Line
Dakota and Nebraska to the lazy Rio Grande
It fell across our city like a curtain of black rolled down,
We thought it was our judgment, we thought it was our doom…
—Woody Guthrie, from his song, The Great Dust Storm

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