Windy Weather Safety:
The Study Of
Wind Motion And Objects

We all know that wind cannot go through an object. So when you're out in windy weather, be aware of objects around you. Everything from bus shelters to skyscrapers. The real lessons about wind motion around objects are learned while you are out there in the wind.

Wind Intensity

Wind intensity is the level of strength or pressure that a wind brings to the situation. There have been times in downtown Toronto among the office towers when I was unable to keep my feet on the ground.

I grabbed a chain link fence to stop myself from becoming airborne. By using the fence I was able to pull myself back inside. From there I moved through the Path, an underground mall, away from the towers.

Winds high in intensity and speed are dangerous for driving and walking. It is best to avoid having to deal with them. When the weatherman is calling for severe windy weather, plan for indoor activities.

Tailwinds, Headwinds and Crosswinds

Windy weather does not necessarily mean random wind patterns. Consistency in wind direction, speed and intensity can give one an edge in dealing with the effects.

If it is a tailwind, that is coming at you from behind, then you get a boost. It will assist you in your travel and is often not noticed, until you turn across, or into, its path.

On the other hand, a headwind can cause other problems. A headwind comes at you head-on. If it is strong and steady it makes your vehicle work harder.

If you are towing a trailer of some kind, keep an eye on your temperature and fuel gauges. You can determine from them if and when the extra load from a strong headwind becomes too severe to continue.

Crosswinds are winds that cross your direction of travel from either side. Again, if they are steady then you can adjust by steering slightly into that direction. Here, though, is where you need to be on the lookout for objects that will block or redirect the crosswind.

Many things can change the way the wind crosses your path. Trees, small hills, buildings and other vehicles on the road can make a strong crosswind act differently on your vehicle.

The crosswind can completely disappear. If you are not prepared you could steer yourself off the road or, worse, into an oncoming lane.

Scan back and forth, using your mirrors and peripheral vision. Make a note of the objects beside the road that could block or redirect the crosswind.

Consider the vehicles on the road in the same manner. An approaching truck will temporarily block any crosswind coming from the left as it passes you.

Prepare by beginning to relax the tension you have on the wheel as the vehicle begins to pass you. That way you will not be drawn toward that lane by the apparent vacuum the vehicle creates. You will also be better prepared for the crosswind as the vehicle completes its pass.

If your vehicle becomes too unstable because of changing wind pressures, find a place to pull completely off the road. Then what I do is check a local weather report, or use an online site for a local weather report to find out how long these conditions are expected to last. From that I determine whether I look for a coffee shop or a motel.

'Artificial' Crosswinds

Another place where the crosswind effect can sometimes catch one off-guard is on a divided highway. We call them the 400 series in Ontario. Even on a day without any significant wind activity, you can experience surprising crosswinds.

It happens when you are passing a transport truck. The front of that cab is pushing against a lot of air that gets changed into a wind. It splits between the left side, right side and over top.

As your car comes up even with the front of the truck, you will feel the wind push against your car. Sometimes it is very strong and can scare you a little if you're not expecting it. It's a good thing to be paying attention.

Wind Gusts and High Winds

Perhaps the most common idea of windy weather you think of is gusty weather. You may see small stuff, like twigs, bunches of leaves or small pieces of garbage blowing around randomly. In those cases you're probably OK to keep driving.

If the stuff blowing around gets bigger consider getting off the road until the weather settles. You don't want a large barrel or branch breaking your windshield. That would also be a good time to check a local weather report to assess the risk. And don't park under a tree!

High winds can be dangerous, especially in high places. The Burlington Skyway is a high bridge in Hamilton that lets ships into and out of the harbour without a drawbridge. It is often closed during high winds. I have driven over that bridge in windy weather that was not enough to close the bridge.

I am always amazed at how much blocking effect the steel girders have. They are on both sides at the very top of the bridge. I am always surprised at how much wind there is blowing across the bridge when I come out from beside the high girders.

You could get serious scratches on your car from the guardrail if too much of your attention is elsewhere. Like on your cellphone. Keep your attention on the road.

An important component of keeping your car in your lane during windy weather conditions is in how you hold the steering wheel. There are varying opinions on what position is 'correct'. What I like is a position around 11 and 1 o'clock.

This way I can use my hands and arms to maintain a slight opposing pressure, to each other, on the wheel. This is the best way I have found to keep my car steady under windy conditions.

The position of 9 and 3 o'clock is great for racing through pylons or avoiding potholes but it is too far from centre for me when I'm in windy conditions.

The steady pressure can cause tension and stretching my hands one at a time over the steering wheel helps me to relax them.

Evaluating Risk

Evaluating the risk of driving in windy weather and other hazardous conditions includes considering your own health and safety. I have learned that evaluating from an ego point of view, as in I can do this or what's a little wind/snow/ice/rain...whatever is not beneficial in the long run.

Windy weather is unpredictable. You can increase your chances for safety by paying close attention to your environment. Asses risk, with the comfort and safety of you and your passengers being the first priority.

The importance of keeping an appointment, even if it is being at work on time, is always secondary to safety.

After all, you're not much good to anyone if you are not well.

As always drive safe, drive smart and...

Enjoy The Ride.

I 'm done with windy weather, James. I need more driving safety tips, please

I'm finished with windy weather. Home to proven driving tips, James.

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