Travel Weather Check

Clouds and sunset at Laramie, Wyoming

How do you prepare for travel?  Sure, we pack the right clothes, determine the route, lodging, fuel and other important factors that make the trip successful.  Did you check for weather?

During my recent trip to the Midwest states of the U.S., I thought more in-depth about the weather.  During the first half of 2019 the U.S. has encountered numerous wildfires, floods and tornadic systems. 

How do you know if a beautiful sunset could quickly change to severe weather?

I’m from the southeastern U.S. and we have these events as well, including hurricanes; however, I have not encountered the tornado types and flash floods that arise in the western side of the country. 

We heard of the floods through Mississippi, Arkansas and Kansas, Iowa, Missouri and throughout the region.  I kept aware while traveling through these areas, mostly by checking the respective state’s 511 system, WAZE and local radio stations.  The primary highways were open, but some secondary roads were listed as closed.   

One of the state roads we needed to take in Arkansas was closed and there were no signs of a detour.  The GPS took us down some back roads, including a dirt road, and we finally ended up on the other side of the road damage.  I was questioning where the GPS was right though because it has diverted me at times for no reason. 

Traveling along the Missouri River in Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas presented some problems.  Some of the major routes were closed but the Interstate 29 we wanted to travel had recently opened.  Here is an example of the 511 reports this week.  https://lb.511ia.org/ialb/roadreports/route.jsf?route=19%3A4&textOnly=false&current=true

There was a stretch of more than 50 miles where all exits were closed.  Imagine the impact to the farm community as well as the businesses that couldn’t receive customers. 

We saw many areas where water had been over the Interstate itself, and it still was not receding quickly.  There were also signs of damage to farm equipment and property.  At times I could not tell where a lake was because of the flooded plains.  It looked like continuous lakes. 

One of the major concerns I had was the possibility of encountering a major tornado that we hear about on the news many times.  These Midwest systems are much larger than ones in coastal areas.  I kept a keen watch for cloud formations and kept the radio on when I saw suspicious clouds and kept aware of potential areas to take cover in event a tornado formed quickly.  

Just look at these clouds as we arrived in Laramie, Wyoming.  I didn’t let my guard down and made sure my phone was on during the night in case an alarm was sent out.

There aren’t many places to shelter when one is driving in the open terrain.  That’s where radio information is invaluable and can tell us the direction of the system.  It’s also good to know your directions too.  Do you have a compass?

I had already decided if I was stuck in the open terrain and had no place to shelter, I would stop somewhere with a ravine, ditch or depression in the ground to minimize flying debris.  I also brought extra rain gear and coats to cover up while lying in a low area if needed.  Of course, you always have to consider the potential for flash flooding in these areas as well. 

Remember!  Highway overpasses are NOT tornado shelters and should be avoided.  They can create high winds funneling through that can bring debris and/or sweep you away. 

It was interesting that tornados hit some of the areas just before and after our visits.  For instance, a tornado (I think EF-3) traveled just north of Laramie a couple of days ago.   https://laramielive.com/tags/tornado/

I compared the clouds we saw to the clouds in these tornadic systems.  They looked the same to me, except our clouds apparently lacked strong wind circulation. 

So, when you travel – don’t forget to check weather and know the conditions in the area that could lead to dangerous weather.

Don’t do like the example of storm chasers in this video clip as they chased the tornado near Laramie.   Safe travels. 

More information is available at https://www.weather.gov/ama/severesafetytips. 

Blessings along the Way!

Ron

Know before you go

 

FLNG and law enforcement confer at checkpoint after Hurricane Michael - courtesy FLNG
Florida National Guard troops coordinate with law enforcement to assist them in road closures, safety and security.  (photo courtesy: Florida National Guard)

Hurricane Michael struck the Florida Panhandle with a 155 miles-per-hour fury and extensive storm surge.  It continued into Georgia as a hurricane wreaking significant damage and continues to impact much of the southeastern U.S.A.

Travelers through the southeastern U.S. need to keep aware of travel conditions as they will change regularly even after Hurricane Michael exits.

Thousands of emergency response team members are already working life-saving missions first, along with safety and security.  Thousands more from various areas are currently traveling to the impacted areas.

FLNG CERFP team briefs for Hurricane Michael mission - courtesy FLNG
Florida National Guard Soldiers discuss plans prior to conducting assigned tasks.  (photo courtesy:  Florida National Guard)

There are more than 3,000 Florida National Guard troops on active status already working missions in support of key agencies.

Florida’s Division of Emergency Management is overseeing and coordinating response efforts as directed by Florida’s Governor Rick Scott.   The U.S. Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been planning and positioning support to assist respective state governments and are already performing duties.

It is not feasible to identify all of those responding, as practically every local, state and federal U.S. agency is working on behalf of the citizens and guests.

Some of the first ones responding to help save lives involves the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).  They normally respond with a variety of specialized equipment, including shallow draft boats, ATVs, airboats and four-wheel-drive vehicles.  They all work in conjunction with law enforcement and fire/rescue agencies.

If you are considering traveling through the southeastern U.S., please travel only if necessary – at least until the major response and recovery efforts allow you to safely do so.

Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) highly suggests using one of their preferred tools to monitor roadway conditions.  Florida 511.  Also, please be aware that many of the roadways throughout the path of the storm are closed due to damage or being under water. It is best not to drive through water.  “Turn around, don’t drown.”

FDOT 511 header for hurricane

Know before you go. 

Information on roadway conditions and closures is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on Florida 511. Drivers may dial 511 from their mobile phones to receive updates. (Please stop safety while using the device or let a passenger use it.) 511 is a free resource, however, cell phone minutes and text message charges may apply. Updates are also available on the web at www.FL511.com.

Florida’s emergency management website, https://www.floridadisaster.org/info, provides excellent information to assist residents and guests.

Georgia Tips

Georgia’s Department of Transportation Special Response Teams will begin clearing impacted roadways once the worst of the storm passes. In the event of major flooding, crews will wait until waters recede to begin clean up. Priority routes will be cleared first to ensure the public maintains access to hospitals, trauma centers and other public facilities.

  • Call 511 to report flash flooding, downed trees or other obstructions on roadways or bridges impeding travel
  • Take shelter as the system passes through the state
  • Do not to drive around barricades that are in place for motorist’s safety or through standing water
  • Residents should never clear tree limbs, downed trees or debris from roadways, as live power lines could be tangled in debris and cause injury or death; instead, wait for Georgia DOT and Georgia Power crews
  • Motorists who must drive should always treat flashing red and non-operational signals as a four-way stop

For real-time road conditions, call 511 or visit Georgia511. For weather information, visit the National Weather Service in Tallahassee, Florida, or the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, Georgia. http://www.dot.ga.gov/AboutGeorgia/Pages/GDOTAnnouncementDetails.aspx?postID=852

Check other states (typically their 511) if you plan to travel to get the latest on travel information.  It may save time, money and your life.

Thank you for partnering with me on these latest posts.  I felt compelled to provide as much safety information as possible during crisis situations.  I’ll resume my normal travel posts soon.  Thank you!

Blessings!

Ron

How alert are we on the road?

Pre-K Bike-a-thon 051We all travel, don’t we?  How alert are we when moving about?

Do we check local traffic laws when we travel?  I have traveled to many countries and one of the main concerns I had in traveling the local roads was making sure I didn’t hit a bicyclist or pedestrian.

I’ve heard of some troublesome situations for motorists traveling from another country.  Plus, imagine the ongoing guilt feeling even if we are in the right.

But it’s not only while traveling abroad.  The challenge is even in our home towns.

May is bicycle safety month in Florida so I thought I would provide an emphasis on this subject.

Alert Today_National Bike Month_Web (1)

CTSTFL-bicyclist-tip-card-300x180In Florida, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) works diligently to help ensure our vulnerable road users (like bicyclists and those walking) are protected.  There are ongoing campaigns to emphasize road safety.

 

I’ll use some of their information to highlight this month’s emphasis on bike safety.

Alert Today_National Bike Month_Web, SpanishThis is important for those who live in Florida as well as the U.S.A.  It’s equally important for those visiting from other countries to understand the traffic rules to help protect ourselves, resulting in a pleasant experience.

I also think it is important to understand when we travel to and through tourist destinations there are many just like us mixing with the locals on the roads.  Some know where they are going and some do not.  We MUST recognize this diversity on the roads for a safer travel experience.

DSC_4993Many times when we travel through construction zones our GPS or electronic devices may not be dependable, whether on the major highways or local roads.  This creates an additional distraction causing us to not be as vigilant for other vehicles, bicyclists or pedestrians.  I suggest we review a map of the area before traveling so we will know if the GPS is accurate or not; and have an alternate route planned to help ease the confusion.  

DCIM100GOPROG0056781.
Cyclists rides correctly on the right side in the U.S.  Think how far your mirror sticks out too.  

During my last trip to Europe I was once again reminded to be extra careful and alert for bicyclists.  I believe when we travel to other countries we realize the importance of being watchful because of uncertainty on the roadways; however, I’m confident we are not as observant around our familiar roadways at home.

DCIM100GOPROG0079765.
Bicyclist uses the bike lane properly and rides with the traffic.  Drivers must still ensure at least three foot distance while passing a bicycle.  

My personal opinion is there are more bicyclists in Europe than in the U.S. – for varying reasons – and local drivers are more accustomed to them, along with a better attitude toward cyclists.  Maybe most U.S. drivers  prefer using motorized vehicles and aren’t as tolerant for bicyclists.

So, what are we to do?

It’s spring now and there is an increase of bicyclists as the trend builds throughout the summer.  Be alert cyclists not following the rules.  They often don’t ride in the same direction as traffic when riding on the road.  You are required to ride WITH the traffic, not against it.  You may use the sidewalk in most areas provided you give an audible warning to a pedestrian when approaching him or her.

Although Florida Statutes allow riding on the sidewalk, there are some local municipalities that have more stringent requirements.  For instance, in St. Augustine, particularly around the downtown area, bicyclists are not supposed to ride on sidewalks.  This is likely true in many congested areas where a lot of people are walking around.

Bicyclist rides against traffic
Bicyclist falls almost in front of an oncoming  vehicle after crossing a major road illegally.

 

Bicyclist rides against traffic, after fall
Bicyclist picks up his bicycle after falling nearly in front of this vehicle. We all must expect the unexpected.

It’s up to law enforcement to determine respective violations and cite them, or not.  In Jacksonville,  you may be fined if you ride a bicycle on the sidewalk in an unsafe manner or if there is a bike lane in the road and you choose to not use it.  However, I’m sure most law enforcement officers prefer to not write these citations.

This link provides more information about FDOT efforts to improve traffic safety – particularly for bicyclists and pedestrians.   https://www.alerttodayflorida.com/index.html 

Here are some key findings from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (based on their latest statistics reported):  https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812382

• There were 818 pedalcyclist (bicyclist) deaths in 2015, which accounted for 2.3 percent of all traffic fatalities during the year.

• Seventy percent of pedalcyclists who died in motor vehicle crashes in 2015 died in crashes in urban areas.

• Over the 10-year period from 2006 to 2015, the average age of pedalcyclists killed in motor vehicle crashes increased from 41 to 45.

• The pedalcyclist fatality rate per million people was almost 6 times higer for males than females in 2015.

• Alcohol involvement – either for the motor vehicle operator or for the pedalcyclist – was reported in 37 percent of all fatal pedalcyclist crashes in 2015.

• More than 27 percent of the pedalcyclists who died in 2015 had blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of .01 g/dL or greater.

CTSTFL-bicyclist-tip-card-300x180Pre-K Bike-a-thon 012There are numerous bicycle education and training courses as well as events in Florida.  I’m curious if other states and countries have a robust plan to help the most vulnerable travelers.  When do other states and countries begin reinforcing safe habits to bicyclists – as a child, youth or adult?

FDOT works through various local, state and national partners to survey and conduct research as well as safety campaigns to reinforce road safety.

Bike to SchoolOne of FDOT’s Alert Today Florida campaigns involves reinforcing bike safety as children ride to school.  I applaud the National Football League Jacksonville Jaguars in teaming each year with FDOT’s Alert Today Florida emphasis.  I was part of this emphasis in 2017.  Mark Brunell, former Jaguars quarterback, and Donovin Darius, former Jaguars defensive safety, along with The ROAR cheerleaders and the Jaguars Mascot Jaxson de  Ville, were key celebrities to highlight safe biking to school.

Ronnie and Levi
Do you remember the commercials years ago with the “crash dummies Larry and Vince?”  Recent efforts involved using these outfits to emphasize buckling up and other road safety procedures.  

Ron as Larry the Crash Smarty
I had the privilege, or duty, to interact with young people and adults to reinforce driver, bicycle and pedestrian safety. Youth particularly enjoyed the interaction – although some were apprehensive and didn’t know for sure if the “dummy” was real or just fake.  You should have seen them jump when I moved! 

Since May is the emphasis month this year for bicycling, there was a first-ever Bicycle Safety 365 Challenge at select schools.  The Bicycle Safety 365 Challenge in Jacksonville was a four-week pilot program that provides in-class bicycle safety lessons to all sixth grade students at Fletcher, Kernan and Mayport Middle Schools.

Each week, a different bicycle safety lesson was taught in class with teachers hosting safety activities for exciting learning opportunities.  Schools had the opportunity to earn points during the week. The school with the most points by the end of the fourth week wins a “Bike to School Day” event with the Jacksonville Jaguars!

For their participation, each school was awarded new Alert Today Florida bicycle racks as a way of encouraging active transportation to schools, students, and families.  You can click on this link to see which school won the competition and will have a Bike-to-School Day event with the Jacksonville Jaguars on May 9.   https://www.alerttodayflorida.com/jaguarsafety.html

Bike to School 8
Alert Today Florida efforts to provide and “fit” children with bicycle helmets.  

I challenge cities, states and countries to examine how we emphasize and reinforce travel safety wherever we go – at home and abroad.  There must be a major emphasis worldwide to help save lives of our most vulnerable roadway users. 

This link has video clips for safe biking.  https://www.alerttodayflorida.com/bikesafevideos.html

Other safety tips may be viewed at http://trafficsafetyteam.org/traffic-safety-campaigns/bicycle-safety/.  

Motorists:

  • Share the road with bicyclists.
  • Stop before turning right on red.
  • Passing bicyclists too closely is dangerous and illegal.
  • Focus on the road.  Avoid aggressive driving.
  • Obey the traffic laws, signals and speed limits.

Sharro example-2

Do you know what a Sharrow is? Throughout Florida there are road markings in the middle of a lane showing a bicycle with two arrow lines above it. This is a Sharrow!

Sharrow-web

  • SHARROW is a shared-lane marking indicating where a cyclist has the right to ride.
  • Give cyclists 3 feet of space when passing.
  • Under Florida Law, bicycles have the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicles.
  • Focus on the road and obey the traffic laws, signals and speed limits

Safe travels everyone!

Ron