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

New Express Lanes – Northeast Florida

I-295 West Beltway express lanes sign reminds travelers southbound to be in the left lanes once they travel over the Buckman Bridge at the St. Johns River.

Northeast Florida has its first “Express Lanes” that opened recently on Interstate 295 (I-295) West Beltway in Jacksonville. Travelers will encounter the new restricted lanes on part of the south side of town near Orange Park.

General purpose lanes with no tolls will remain while tolls for the two Express Lanes in each direction will fluctuate depending on traffic volume. The tolls are designed to help balance traffic while allowing travelers a more predictable travel speed, at a minimum of 45 m.p.h.

According to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), Express Lanes will use time-of-day pricing. “Customers choosing to travel in the express lanes will only be charged during rush hour travel periods. A $0.50 static toll will be implemented Monday through Friday from 6:00 AM–10:00 AM and from 3:00 PM–7:00 PM. Customers will not be charged a toll to use the express lanes during all other times.”

Depending on the volume of vehicles, the toll may increase during peak traffic.

Video ride in the new express lanes in Jacksonville, Florida

Toll roads are not popular in northeast Florida and were removed years ago. At least travelers have a choice with the Express Lanes, while the effort helps with traffic congestion.

Northbound on I-295 toward St. Johns River

Jacksonville is one of the major locations for travelers entering and leaving Florida, especially on the east coast. Travelers will notice construction on major highways in and around Jacksonville, including work for additional Express Lanes. It’s best to check your routes beforehand, and have a map handy, as GPS directions may not be updated as frequently as the highway patterns change.

Southbound from St. Johns River toward I-95

Apps like Florida 511 (FL511) and WAZE provide fairly up-to-date information; but you may still need a map to navigate construction and by-pass routes in case of an emergency on the major highways.

More information about Florida’s Express Lanes is located at http://floridaexpresslanes.com/northeastfl/ .

If you need a SunPass during your visit to Florida, which could give you a discount on certain tolls, you may obtain one at a welcome center as you enter the state. Certain retailers have them too. I suggest checking the SunPass website for more information, including where the SunPass may be used in other states. https://sunpass.com

Safe travels in Florida!

Blessings along the Way!

Ron