The best vacation plans can be derailed by severe weather. But there are steps you can take to be prepared in the event of an unexpected storm. From hurricanes to tornadoes, blizzards and more, here’s how to stay on top of the weather when traveling, what to do when disaster strikes and how to keep you and your family safe.
On a flight back to New York from Colorado, it happened. Our plane was diverted away from Detroit due to a snow storm. By the time we deboarded in Cleveland, the airport that unexpectedly received us, it was white-out conditions there too. We weren’t getting home that night.
Stranded without luggage or even basic necessities, I learned a very important lesson on that trip: Always be prepared for anything. Though the airline put us up in the airport hotel and fed us (this was more than two decades ago, so that was commonly done then), it was an uncomfortable night. The next morning, we boarded a different flight to New York, landed at a different airport than we’d left from a week earlier and had to rent a car to go retrieve our own car — and our luggage.
In travel, anything can happen. Now I take steps to be prepared for travel weather. Knowing how to handle situations is key.
Preparing for your trip
As your trip approaches, there’s a natural buzz about the excitement to come. But it’s important to be practical too. Whether you are flying to California, taking a train to Washington or embarking on a road trip to Pennsylvania, being realistic about potential weather is key to family safety.
Start by checking the weather forecast regularly. This information will help you make smart decisions about packing such as deciding whether you need a light jacket or something warmer or whether your summer weight cashmere might be too much for your tropical vacation. Also, travel weather can be fickle. While you might think Chicago is June will be warm, sometimes it’s not. Don’t assume that Colorado will be freezing or Florida sunny either. Checking the weather will also allow you to plan ahead for conditions (whale watches, for instance, are no fun in cold, windy, rainy weather).
While you’re at it, make sure you download some good apps to help you make the most of your trip. Start with ones that help you track the weather. Apps like NOAA Weather and The Weather Channel allow you to not only see the forecast for where you live but also for other destinations you select to follow. Radar apps like WeatherRadar use data from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to show animated real-time radar pictures of weather systems in the United States. Using this, you can see, for instance, if your beach trip might meet bad weather today.
You may also want to sign up for severe weather alerts through the apps so that you are notified in case of forecasted weather.
Travel apps like TripIt and Google Travel will help you keep track of your travel itinerary from flights to car rentals to hotels and excursions. But, if you prefer to create your own itinerary, Google Docs can be perfect for on-the-go checking of your plans.
TravelingMom Tip: You may also want to buy travel insurance so that if a trip has to be canceled last minute on account of severe weather, your investment is protected.
Pack well for flights
These days, many people carry their luggage onto planes since checking bags comes with additional fees. Even if you don’t, it’s key to always travel with the essentials such as medications, a change of clothes and underwear and pajamas. Tuck your toothpaste and toothbrush inside your quart-sized clear bag as well. In the case of emergency en route, you’ll want all these items.
Dealing with severe weather once you’re there
Even the best-laid plans can’t prepare for unexpected travel weather, which can change in an instant. The best you can do for your family vacation is have fun, and be ready in case of an emergency or bad weather when traveling.
Here are some tips for dealing with common natural weather occurrences:
Tornadoes come with little warning. Should one happen where you are, seek shelter immediately. Hotels and airports often have tornado structures. If you aren’t in a place with a designated shelter, try to get to a basement or an interior room without windows to wait out the storm.
Hurricanes do come with some warning. But the high winds and driving rains can have unpredictable outcomes, such as uprooting trees, flash flooding and more. If you happen to be in a place where a hurricane is nearing, your best bet is to evacuate. (The authorities are probably telling you to do it anyway.) If for some reason you cannot, stay indoors and away from windows and glass doors. On cruise ships, you’ll want to follow the instructions of the ship’s captain, who will likely steer out to sea to avoid the storm.
A flash flood can — and does — happen unexpectedly, washing out roads, taking down trees and power lines and leaving areas unpassable. That’s exactly what happened in the Greenbrier flood in West Virginia a few years ago. So what do you do? If you are in a flood zone or a low-lying area, you’ll want to seek higher ground if possible. However, if you can’t, hunker down somewhere safe. Your hotel, for instance, might have a designated spot for riding out the storm. If you can leave, do so with caution. Never drive through flooding or flowing water — your vehicle could become stuck or worse. Also, be careful of downed power lines, which can be concealed by flooding.
If a big snowstorm is on the way, make sure you have adequate food and water available. Charge your cell phones and other devices. Plan to stay indoors as much as possible. If you absolutely have to go somewhere, know that driving in snow is different than any other weather condition. The whiteout conditions of a blizzard can make it downright frightening. Review these winter driving tips to know what to do.
If for any reason evacuation becomes a necessity, you’ll need a solid plan of where to go. Try to choose somewhere outside the path of severe weather, if possible. Apps like Google Maps incorporate traffic data into directional advice, helping you to choose the best route to your destination. And be sure to bring food, water, medicine and other necessities — you never know what might happen on the road.
Severe weather when traveling is never a welcome companion on a family vacation. But with a little preparation and know-how, you can be prepared and ready to keep your family safe.