Chaser Safety on Wet Roads

Joined
Jun 21, 2004
Messages
374
Location
Kansas City, Missouri
During my chase on Sunday (which I did not see a tornado... darn...), I nearly missed running into the back of a semi that was skidding on both lanes of wet pavement on I-70 east of Odessa, MO. There were at least 9-10 cars/trucks that I have seen in the median of the roadway between Odessa and Boonville all the result of sliding off of the roadway due to the slick conditions. If not for the guard cable that was in the middle of I-70, no telling how much more serious these accidents could have been.

Of the noticeable spinouts of vehicles onto the middle of the highway included a storm chaser, I believe the back of the pickup truck said "blownawaytours.com", a chaser from Lee's Summit, MO. The pickup slid off of the roadway and was facing the opposite direction in the ditch. I was passed by this truck (their speed was at least 75-80) while I was heading east on I-70 at Oak Grove. There were also a badly damaged car at Concordia that spun out, and 2 instances of trucks spinning out, one parked in the median of I-70 near Higginsville, and the other which overturned and blocked the westbound lanes of I-70 at Milepost 91 (which might have been due to the wind/possible tornado that passed through here).

All I want to say with respect for the upcoming season is slow down. A lot of these areas in Missouri had not received rain in over a month and the combination of oil from the cars and the rain made the roadway very slick. The same conditions can be possible in Oklahoma (with the lack of rain down there) soon also, so just slow down, Sure the guard cable on I-70 prevented many accidents from becoming serious but when a high risk day is put out and storms were hastily moving, I think a lot of people are taking chances with not only their own lives, but countless others also, just to get in front of the fast moving storms.

I was passed by countless chasers going east on I-70, many going 80-85+ in wet conditions, and it was really not called for.
 
Absolutely. I've seen a lot of this first-hand as well. Even with good tires, if you're pushing 70+ on wet roads it's almost as bad as driving 50+ on snow. Very heavy rain with standing water can be as bad as ice as far as the ease of losing control. Once you start to fishtail at those speeds you won't regain control. Go to Google video and type in 'rally crashes' to see what I mean. Those cars are built for performance and control but even those skilled drivers can't keep them on the road when it is wet.

Wet roads have already proven fatal for chasers, and I think that second to distracted driving, they are actually one of the biggest dangers we face when chasing.
 
Yeah, driving 70+ on wet roads is an accident waiting to happen. I have tires only a month or 2 old, and even then i've slipped once in rain and locked it up a few times in snow. Now, its not like i'm Dale Earnhardt, nor do i drive 30, but if people just use good judgement while chasing (others on the road too), it shouldn't be a problem to avoid accidents.
 
If you see someone off the road one of two things has happened:

- They drove beyond their ability
- They drove beyond the ability of their equipment

Some people can do 80+ in the rain because their equipment and skill are supier to most. (note..not me)

So what's the key?

- Know the limit of your abilities and stay below them. Just because the guy ahead of you did 80 around a corner does *NOT* mean you can (see rules above). Take the curve at the speed *YOU* can take the curve.

- Know the limit of your equipment. Is your equipment in top condition? New/good tires? All wheel drive? *If* you were good enough...*could* your equipment handle the corner at 80+.

- Know the limit of your abilities and equipment in the conditions you are in and adjust accordingly.

But, no mater how good of a driver you are your equipment can not compenstate for your stupidity.

I believe people think that everyone (or at least themselves) was born a professional race car drive. Take a driving class and prove to yourself how much you suck :)

**Short story about my self inflicted driving class**
I consider myself a fairly good drive...not "race car quality mind you" and was on a back road that just screamed to me....push the edge...I was very familiar with every curve and knew what to expect, the weather was perfect and there were no "blind" areas. So I was crossing lanes, breaking into turns and accelerating out of them....etc. Until I came to a sharp left turn. I was accelerating up to the turn and then hit the brakes and turned the wheel.....that's when I started to wet my pants because the car was sliding towards the guard rail. (it was sorta a T intersection) After I came to a stop I said to myself..."self...you just learned a valuable leason about your abilities and this car...take it a notch back...that's the best you can do"
 
I'd guess all of us have been guilty of speeding at some time or another, but chasing is not the time or place for such irresponsibilty. We're already driving in less than ideal conditions due to the combinations of road conditions, poor visibilty, and being less than focused on the road. Combine that with drivers (usually locals)who are not as experienced in driving in poor road conditions and people (locals AND other chasers) who are wandering around not paying attention to their surroundings, and you have the perfect recipe for disaster. It's not enough to acknowledge your limitations...you've also got to acknowledge it's the other people who can complicate the situation. It's like I used to tell my young one...I trusted him (well, up to a point)...it's the other fools out there that I didn't trust. Same thing here....I know that flooding, lightning, wind, hail, and rain are part of the hazards of chasing, and I know my limitations. It's those other people out there that I don't trust, and make (to me, anyway) the greatest hazard we face as chasers. It's simple people.....SLOW DOWN! What's more important...getting the shot of a lifetime or living to tell about it???
I think Dave Hoadley said it pretty well Saturday...if you're speeding to get to your storm, it's a sign of poor forecasting/planning. No storm is worth risking your life or the lives of others for.
Ok, getting off the soap box now. Let's all be careful out there.
Angie
 
If you see someone off the road one of two things has happened:

- They drove beyond their ability
- They drove beyond the ability of their equipment
[/b]

I would add one more to the list, that to a point can be mitigated by better planning, but sometimes mother natures catches us all by surprise, and the other one I would add is:

- Being blown off road by a wind event.

I have had it happen, and seen it happen to other drivers, where strong straight line winds have pushed cars off to the side of the road many times. Nothing that was really their fault other than being at the right place at the wrong time.
 
I would add one more to the list, that to a point can be mitigated by better planning, but sometimes mother natures catches us all by surprise, and the other one I would add is:

- Being blown off road by a wind event.

I have had it happen, and seen it happen to other drivers, where strong straight line winds have pushed cars off to the side of the road many times. Nothing that was really their fault other than being at the right place at the wrong time.
[/b]


True...I've seen that in the Grape Vine between Los Angeles and Bakersfield.

I guess I ignored "mother nature" since she can overcome anything we feel like trying ;)
 
We've seen this discussion before, and it bears bringing it up again. Good points for all!

After 17 years of driving emergency vehicles of ALL types in almost all road conditions, I can tell you from experience that each vehicle has it's own quirks. I once drove an older Crown Victoria with a broken A Frame at a Law Enforcement Driving class and came out on the top side with no issues. I know for a fact that I can change 4 lanes of traffic at 70 mph in the space of a car length and a half. Would I try this in my truck? Not on your life! Can I take a 90 degree corner at 60? Depends on the vehicle. Yes, it can be done. I did it once in a Taurus. Tried again later in my truck and darn near ended up in a wheat field. That was on dry warm pavement! I wouldn't even attempt it on wet roads.

Always think ahead. Always be thinking about the other guy and what he is going to do as opposed to what he actually does. The faster your speed, the further ahead you have to think about. Watch your spacing. If the guy ahead of you slams on his brakes, are you going to end up with Ford tatooed all over the front end? Just like chasing, have an escape route. Bite the ditch if you have to. It beats the heck out of a collision.

Remember, we have many more road miles under our belts than the average Joe Driver. However, that doesn't always translate to we are more safe. We are driving under bad road conditions, adrenalin pumping our heart rates up, looking at all sorts of gadgets, and trying to pay attention to the storm.

Now, I'll get off my safety Soap Box here. Have fun! Drive safe and friendly. Catch that Tube!!!
 
You know this is a good arguement for having a chase vehicle as opposed to renting one. I know I am VERY comfortable with my Windstar and what I can and can't do with it. Been chasing in Windstars for a few years now aside from that POS Plymouth I had in 2004. I drive it every day and have been in all sorts of conditions with it. I know how it handles in what, and how to make it do what I want. On the other hand, when we chase in my partners Tahoe, I am much less comfortable with it than I am my van. Even though it's a more substantial vehicle, I don't drive it often enough to have the comfort level to put it through it's paces like I can my Windstar.

I can't image jumping in rental car to go chasing. A vehicle I know nothing about, don't know how it was driven or taken care of, and possible never drove the same make/model vehicle before.
 
For those of you who haven't been on the board long, Stormtrack lost one of its own, Jeff Wear (memorial page) about 8 months ago; he hydroplaned while coming back from chasing Hurricane Dennis.

I do know that the closest I ever came to biting the big one was, what else, hydroplaning. May 15, 1995, Shannon and I were trailing some storms after dark on eastbound I-20 near Big Spring. The freeway was absolutely full of "black ice" sheets of water, and they kept getting worse... I slid at 60 mph and went about a foot from going off the freeway. I have a profound respect for the dangerous oddities of the pavement on I-20, assuming it's still in the same state it was in then.

I've had a few close calls with cattle standing on farm-to-market roads at night in the Wichita Falls - Vernon area. Gene Rhoden had a similar experience there with Tim M. several years back. That area seems notorious for that kind of thing.

Tim
 
I'm suprised no one has brought the subject up about tailgating especially on wet roads (I personally don't do it in fear of rearending the vehicle in front of me,) but on numerous occasions I've had near collisions because people drive way to close. I hate slamming on my brakes to get the guy behind me to back off. What do you guys do to deter tailgating or is there no simple way to deter it? Just thought I'd ask.
 
Regarding those guard rails Ben that you think might have saved a bunch of lives. Yeah, those guard rails damn near got thousands of people killed when I-70 westbound got shut down. Nobody had any way to turn around as numerous tornadic supercells headed right for them. I got this on video because at the time I was driving by it I noticed what a deadly situation it was.

And also, I can bet I was probably one of those chasers that blew by you. You think I'm gonna do the speed limit when I got a tornadic supercell that just dropped a half mile wide tornado in Sedalia coming up from my southwest at 50+mph! I don't think so, I was even trying to get the locals to speed up because I didn't want them to get rolled by that storm either. There's times when wreckless driving is unneccesary and then there's times when you don't want to get killed. I don't chase so I can go on some sunday drive to sightsee, chasing is fast, intense, and most of the time extremely dangerous. Throw in a high risk day that gave the 74 superoutbreak a run for it's money and you're gonna get a whole lot of chasers flying around the target area.

I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be hostile, but we've been over this subject already and frankly I'm tired of it. Nobody's gonna stop speeding just because they read it on ST, yes we know speeding is bad, but so are tornadoes.
 
Throw in a high risk day that gave the 74 superoutbreak a run for it's money and you're gonna get a whole lot of chasers flying around the target area.
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I think it's always good to have a reminder that the most dangerous thing we have to face in the field involves road hazards. Between wet or muddy roads, chasers not pulling completely off the roadway, or general aggressive behavior (aggressive passing, pulling out in front of others, etc), I think the threats we face during driving exceed those that we will likely see from the storm. There may be times when it may not be AS bad to speed as it would be otherwise (and some of those times may not be completely preventable), but it's still dangerous. And for the sake of the record, I think 3/12 pales in comparison to the Super Outbreak. Last I checked, the tornado count was up to 31 (w/o St. Louis NWSFO tornadoes)... The 113 tornadoes in the Storm reports will probably end up being 40-50 verified tornadoes. That's ~30-35% of the Super Outbreak tornadoes... :)
 
I'm suprised no one has brought the subject up about tailgating especially on wet roads (I personally don't do it in fear of rearending the vehicle in front of me,) but on numerous occasions I've had near collisions because people drive way to close. I hate slamming on my brakes to get the guy behind me to back off. What do you guys do to deter tailgating or is there no simple way to deter it? Just thought I'd ask.
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I'd like to second this, as it seems to be my biggest problem. I notice people that tailgate right after a storm with wet roads (and in most cases, lots of puddles), not to mention it's dark out. I'll be doing the speed limit, or maybe a hair over... But I usually end up with some a-hole riding so close that I can't see the tail lights in my rear view.

Now in most cases, since I have hydroplaned quite a few times, I go a solid 5-10 under the speed limit on wet roads, usually 10 under if it's dark/raining/etc., with very poor visibility. I used to just race along, but with Jeff Wear getting killed, as well as another person that I knew, I've toned it down.

I guess I could think of something... Maybe install a rear facing horn...
 
I guess I could think of something... Maybe install a rear facing horn...
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I have those nice bright 50W lights on my trailer hitch. When people start getting too close at night or ride up on you with their brights on, flipping those on for a few seconds works wonders!
 
I agree with Jeff. In the realm of chasing, storm dangers have always been traditionally overhyped while driving dangers have been, in my opinion, greatly underhyped. I think this trend desperately needs to be reversed, and to our credit, I think it is beginning to. We need to put our greater safety emphasis on the greater danger. Not ignoring the storm dangers, but putting higher priority on road hazards.

Don't get me wrong, I know storms are dangerous. But the dangerous parts of storms are usually very small with narrow swaths, and therefore easy to avoid and, in fact, actually difficult to get into on purpose. For a chaser with at least a minimal amount of data or information, this danger zone is easy to avoid.

The road dangers, however, are always there, from the start of the chase to the end. We hear about the big car accidents and the tragic ones like Jeff Wear's crash, but I submit to everyone that there are far more that we don't hear about. I've even been in a minor wet-road accident while chasing that I was lucky didn't end up in a pileup. I don't like admitting that because it was a stupid mistake on my part. I was going too fast and could not stop in time when traffic slowed. I only talk about this because it proves that it can and will happen to anyone of us who isn't careful about speed.

It's one thing if a chaser finds themselves in the path of a wedge, but it also won't help that situation if they slide off the road and flip going 90 trying to escape.

I'm suprised no one has brought the subject up about tailgating especially on wet roads (I personally don't do it in fear of rearending the vehicle in front of me,) but on numerous occasions I've had near collisions because people drive way to close. I hate slamming on my brakes to get the guy behind me to back off. What do you guys do to deter tailgating or is there no simple way to deter it? Just thought I'd ask.
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I've always heard that tapping your brakes lightly repeadedly (to flash the brake lights) or turning on your hazards is the signal for the tailgater to increase their following distance. This works most of the time but there is always going to be the person who doesn't get the signal.

In those cases I will just pull over and let the guy pass the first chance I get. If I can't find a place to pull off, I will slow way down, roll down the window and wave for the driver to pass, as long as it is in a safe spot to do so.

I'd rather let the guy pass than stress about it. With all the road rage cases these days you never know what people are going to do.
 
The shear volume of accidents on 3/12 was incredible. I saw nearly 20 vehicles off the road heading home on Sunday night (due to ice). Pete McConnell witnessed many wrecks from the wind/hail on his way to meet up with me. Two chasers had wrecks, including our own Stan Olson and a tour company which was mentioned previously. Hydroplanning is a serious issue to us, since we expose ourselves to adverse road conditions over and over again. Two chasers have been killed driving back from the chase and many more have been in accidents. Aside from the critical factor of speed, here are some tips:

Do NOT apply your brakes

Do NOT try to steer in any direction but straight ahead
 
I think the other safety issue raised by 3/12 is the dangers of chasing at night. Without pointing fingers at anyone, just look at some of the things that have been reported on ST. One chaser crashed into a grain bin that had been blown onto I-72. Another acknowledges coming within 20 yards or so of a house that had been blown onto the road without knowing it at the time, and wondering why the people in the area were freaking out when she saw nothing but "high funnels." By daylight, she observed F2-F3 damage where she had seen only "high funnels." I think that having large numbers of chasers out at night, especially when the storms are moving at 50 mph, and in some cases in areas with lousy visibility, is asking for big trouble.

Did I want to head out when I saw that long-track supercell to my west at sunset or watched its lightning to my north after dark? You bet I did - and my tornado count for this year will probably suffer because I did not chase it. But I will live to chase another day. I worry that one of these days, someone chasing fast-moving storms after dark, on wet roads, maybe in a place with lousy visibility, won't.

What you do is up to you, and I am not going to tell you what to do (and couldn't anyway). But I do think everyone ought to think seriously about the possible consequences before heading out after dark, especially if the conditions are otherwise less than ideal (fast-moving cells or numerous or lined-out storms, slippery roads, areas with hills and trees). Yes, I know not all of these applied on 3/12, but several of them did, and I think we are lucky we did not lose any chasers that night.

Just my $.02

John Farley
Edwardsville, IL
 
Being blown off road by a wind event.[/b]

A trucker once told me how important it was to slow down during high winds, wet or dry. His 18-wheeler would handle sudden gusts of 50 mph just fine if he was going 55, but if he was traveling at 75mph there was a good chance he would wind up leaving the pavement.

During the 2/16/01 derecho here in Alabama, I was driving my van on the northern fringes of the event, yet still had the vehicle jerked to the shoulder, then violently shoved back across two lanes into the left lane within a couple seconds. I had to slow to 20mph to be able to maintain a straight one-lane path.

That storm, incidentally, had debris laying both north and south, including trees and signs, and some signposts on I-65 were bent in an inverted 'J' shape, as if the sign had been blown parallel to the ground by the north wind, then further flattened by the trailing south wind. If I remember, top speeds in that storm were above 105mph.
 
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