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VDOT, AAA offer tips for drivers ahead of Hurricane Ian

Hurricane Ian is tracked south of Florida
Hurricane Ian is tracked by by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's GOES-16 satellite south of Florida in an image captured Sept. 26. (Photo: Courtesy NOAA)

With moderate to heavy rain and wind from Hurricane Ian expected in the Richmond region during the next few days, now is a good time for drivers to prepare, according to representatives from AAA and the Virginia Department of Transportation. 

Morgan Dean, of AAA, said even though drivers are used to precipitation, they need to pay attention because rain from tropical storms comes down quickly and can flood roads. 

“We really can't say it enough, ‘turn around, don't drown.’ It's not worth driving through water, especially if you don't know how deep it is,” he said. 

Dean said there could be hidden dangers in the water, like downed power lines and other debris. And depending on the depth of water, cars of any size — including large trucks and SUVs — could be swept away.  

“When tires start slipping, it doesn't matter whether you have two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, … you're losing your connection to that roadway. And that can turn into a crash,” he said. “Even though you have a bigger truck, trying to go through that standing water is still very, very dangerous. There could be something else that will be pulled up under the carriage of that truck and stop you in the middle of that floodwater.” 

Melanie Stokes, of the Virginia Department of Transportation, said as the storm moves toward Central Virginia, crews will be looking for damage caused by high winds. 

“We are monitoring wind speeds on area bridges,” she said. “We'll notify the public if there are any associated warnings or traffic impacts with that. And traffic signal crews will be on standby to address downed or inoperable signals caused by high winds.” 

Stokes said drivers should be alert for debris and pay attention for when road crews are out clearing streets. 

VDOT crews are already out clearing clogged drains along major roadways, including Interstates 95 and 64. And Stokes said drivers should expect some lane closures, if the storm is bad. 

In addition to avoiding flooded streets, Dean offered the following tips for drivers: 

  • Pay attention to the forecast and delay travel until the storm is over, and water has receded. 
  • Prepare a safety kit that has food, water, blankets and jumper cables, as well as things like road flares. 
  • Be extra cautious when driving at night during storms; it’s hard to tell the difference between a road that’s damp and a road that’s covered in water. 
  • Check your car’s tire pressure. Dean recommended reading the sticker on the inside of your driver’s side door for suggested PSI levels. 
  • Slow down when it’s raining and increase the following distance between you and other cars. This will give you time to react. 
  • Watch for emergency lights from emergency vehicles, tow trucks or cars with hazards lights on. 
  • Keep car lights on during the day. As Dean said, “If you’re using those windshield wipers, make sure your lights are on,” because it brings you extra visibility. 
  • Don’t use cruise control; doing so can result in cars speeding up if the tires begin to slip. 
  • Always wear your seat belt. 

Both AAA and VDOT recommend drivers avoid roads during major storms, if possible. 

Ian M. Stewart is the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.
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