Blowing in the wind: Truckers’ tips for safe driving

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By Nanci Dixon
Several interstates are notorious for wind, particularly in the spring and fall. I-40, I-10, and I-8 have all sidelined us at one time or another. I-40 near Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona, periodically report that semi-trucks have literally blown over in the wind along the interstate. So if trucks have a hard time in a windstorm, what about RVs? What do the truckers do to stay safe while the wind blows?

Truck trailers are measured in “sail” area, the area that can catch the wind. A 53-foot tractor trailer has about 500 square feet of area that can be pushed, create thrust or be disrupted by high winds, similar to having a sail. RVs have “sail” too – just, thankfully, less.

The tips below are ones that long-haul truckers know about driving during a windstorm, but they are also very useful for RVers.

  1. Know how your rig preforms in the wind. The “sail” area can cause an RV to move out of its lane and out of control. There are after-market parts that can improve handling for RVs in the wind.
  2. Reduce speed in the wind. Don’t let the vehicles behind force you to drive at unsafe speeds.
  3. Check existing wind speeds before setting out. There are several apps available to check the forecast and existing winds. Windy, WindAlert, and Windfinder are all good apps that we use consistently. Check out both the prevailing wind and gust speed. The gusts are the ones that can unexpectedly cause an accident.
  4. Check out the weather reports. A wind advisory or a red flag warning are both indications of windy weather. Arizona weather reporters tend to say “breezy,” when in Minnesota they would say it is “windy”. If we hear “windy” in Arizona, Oklahoma, or Texas, we take in the chairs and tables, fasten down the patio rugs and stay in place. Winds have been so strong at times we have had to pull in the slides.
  5. Keep both hands on the wheel and avoid distractions. A sudden gust of wind during a windstorm can jerk the wheel out of your hands. Avoid distractions. Rubber-necking, reaching for something, even turning on the radio can be enough to lose attention on the road conditions.
  6. Watch the signs on the road. They are there for a reason. Wind socks, gusty winds ahead, dust storm area are all signs to be cautious. Bridges and open mountain ridges are all the more prone to gusts that can cause loss of control.
  7. Watch the road too. Flags flying straight out, grass laying horizontal and trees moving back and forth not only give an indication of the amount of wind but also the direction.
  8. Pull over and stop when wind speeds are too high to drive safely. Find a campsite or spot to wait it out. We once spent four days in Oklahoma waiting out gale winds.

For a trucker, when it is determined that an accident is due to high winds, that trucker or company could be charged with negligence. Truckers have dispatchers that do the route planning for them. RVers are on their own determining the safest routes, particularly when high winds are expected. Don’t let an accident happen to you.

And as the old Irish blessing goes, “May the wind be always at your back”.

Related:

Lane-savvy driving – The safe way to travel

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Steven Palazzolo
4 hours ago

Part of this story was wrong. I’ve been a truck driver for 24 years. Dispatchers don’t plan your route. That is up to the driver. Most dispatchers and trucking companies don’t care as long as you are on time with your delivery.

Gary Swope
2 days ago

Another route to be careful on is I-8, east of San Diego, Ca. going through the mountain pass.

bisonwings
4 days ago

Add I-70 in Kansas from Colorado to Topeka, Kansas. US 50 from Colorado to Newton, KS. I-135 from I-70 South to the Oklahoma line. I-235 around Wichita has semi’s blow off the road annually. Add 400 from Colorado to Missouri. There are several more lesser state roads in Kansas that become dangerous during high winds. The difference here is that the gusts are intermittent and can be a one time event.
It’s fairly common to come across an overturned tractor trailer rig and the occasional travel trailer.

Lil John
4 days ago

Many of the semi’s you see laying on their side were light on their load. A fully loaded (weight) semi will do way better. Same goes for RV’s, but the sail area is too great at times for the weight you can carry.

Judy C
4 days ago

Here in the east, Mt. Airy mountain on I77 in NC has its risks. Well marked. I drove it in a small car a few years ago when there were overturned tractor trailers strewn across the northbound side.

Tommy Molnar
4 days ago

In many places, the way ‘they’ determine that the road should be shut down is when the first UPS set of doubles gets toppled over. Don’t laugh . . . At least that’s how truckers look at it..

Steve
4 days ago

You can add I-25, I-80 in western NE and WY, and I-70 in eastern CO to your list. There are multiple wind socks on I-25 between Las Cruces, NM and Casper, WY. I have had to stop several times when towing to wait out the wind on I-80, and I-70 in CO closes east of Denver on a regular basis due to wind. Our Colorado chinook winds regularly reach 80-90 mph, especially near Boulder. We have had to fill our fresh water tank to add weight when parked N-S in a campground and once spent a night in a restroom on top of a mountain in AR when we thought the trailer was going to blow over!

Donald N Wright
4 days ago

what “after market” parts are available for RV’s in windy conditions?

Lee Ann G
4 days ago

Sway bars

Gary W.
4 days ago
Reply to  Lee Ann G

Track/Panhard bars.

DW/ND
4 days ago

“Steer Safe” and similar others – like a shock absorber added to the steering linkages and in addition to OEM stabilizers. Also helps with shoulder or off-pavement situations.

Rosy
4 days ago

I would add that it’s easy to have a false sense of security when driving a dually and pulling a heavier 5th wheel. Our truck is an F350 dually and we pull a 40 ft Mobile Suites. We manage quite well in 15 mph winds, gusting up to 20-25 mph. However, constant 20mph winds are exhausting for the driver even though we can’t feel it. We will drive if the wind is 20 mph but only if there is no other option.

Thomas H Brewer
4 days ago
Reply to  Rosy

20 to 30 mph is just a breeze here in NM. Gusts can be up to 65 mph.

Last edited 4 days ago by Thomas H Brewer
Bard New Mexico
4 days ago

You aren’t kidding, we say that ALL THE TIME!!!!

Judy G
4 days ago

Just a tip for newbies: Often the road ‘cuts’ thru low hills to keep it flatter, and a crosswind momentarily subsides. Then a gust hits as you emerge from the ‘cut’.

DW/ND
4 days ago
Reply to  Judy G

Also, underpasses, tree shelter-belts and anything on the windward side of the road large enuf to block the wind momentarily. Be ready for the surprise when emerging……