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Even the merest mention of the word in local weather forecast is enough to evoke fears of the loss of lives, casualties, toppled trees, fallen power lines, widespread power outages, severe property damage, closed bridge spans, and delayed and canceled flights. "Occupants of cars and trucks are vulnerable to being hit by falling trees and utility poles," advise the National Weather Service and AAA Mid-Atlantic.
This afternoon, Virginia motorists are likely to face hazardous driving conditions due to tornadic thunderstorms and flash flooding, warns AAA Mid-Atlantic. The auto club is advising motorists to exercise extra precaution if they must take to the roads.
Drivers and occupants of high-profile vehicles, including semi-trailer trucks, buses and sport utility vehicles, face the danger of being blown over. Last June's derecho, which packed wind gusts of up to 80 mph, and cut a path of destruction across the East Coast, tossed drivers to and fro on bridges in northern Virginia and Maryland, overturning a tractor-trailer rig in the area.
"It's simple. If you don't have to drive during the powerful windstorm - don't," said Martha Mitchell Meade, AAA Mid-Atlantic's Manager of Public and Government Affairs. "It is wiser to shelter in place until the storm passes over than to venture out. If you must drive, take caution as conditions can become treacherous quickly. If conditions worsen to the point where there is any doubt about your safety, take the nearest exit. Don't stop on the shoulder or under a bridge."
Here are four tips that can save your life in the wake of dangerous and damaging wind gusts:
1. If you are outdoors, move into a building and away from trees, power poles and other objects that could fall.
2. Stay away from any downed power or utility lines.
3. If you are driving, pull off the road and stop away from trees or power poles. If possible, walk into a safe building.
4. Don't panic. Take quick action to protect yourself and others.
Tragically, many people mistakenly think that a highway overpass provides safety from a tornado, thunderstorms capable of producing destructive tornadoes, or an even rarer weather event such as a derecho bearing hurricane-force winds. But in either scenario, an overpass may be one of the worst places to seek shelter, warn the National Weather Service and AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Several area residents were killed by falling trees during the massive and mighty windstorm now officially christened the "Historic Derecho of June 29, 2012." All told, 13 people in the area spanning 10 states and Washington, D.C. were killed by the extreme winds, mainly by falling trees, and the governors of Maryland and Virginia, and the Mayor of Washington, D.C., signed executive orders declaring a state of emergency.
AAA TIPS FOR DRIVERS DURING A DERECHO OR HEAVY WINDS
• Be wary of high wind conditions. Larger trucks are more affected by high winds, so give them plenty of room on the roadways.
• Check weather forecasts often for changing conditions.
• Heed the warnings of emergency officials and weather forecasters.
• Take personal responsibility for your own safety.
• Fuel up your vehicle before power outages.
• Charge your cell phone in advance.
• Get out of the storm's path by seeking shelter in a sturdy, well-constructed building.
• Turn on windshield wipers and head lights (not just daytime running lights) as soon as rain begins to fall.
• Keep both hands on the steering wheel.
• Slow down.
• Listen for wind warnings and restrictions, traffic holds and bridge closures.
• Watch for objects blowing across the roadway.
• Be aware of downed wires on the roadways. If in a vehicle that is in contact with a downed power line, the best rule is to stay there until help arrives. If there is an imminent danger, such a fire, stand on the door frame or edge of the vehicle and jump clear with both feet at the same time. Do not make contact with anything on the vehicle so that your body does not become a pathway for the electricity to reach the earth.
• Go slowly through puddles so the water doesn't shoot up with force into the undercarriage and cause damage. There is a danger of asphyxiation if your tailpipe is filled with water because the carbon monoxide backs up into the car.
"Those involved in outdoor activities are most at risk," warns the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). "Campers or hikers in forested areas are vulnerable to being injured or killed by falling trees. At outside events such as fairs and festivals, people may be killed or injured by collapsing tents and flying debris."