What to do if you're caught in a cyclone while driving

Posted by: Lydia on 8/01/2020

Category: General


Recent weeks have shown how devastating bushfires can be. The suffering and setbacks people have been faced with as a result of them remain in the minds of everyone across the country. If there is one small silver lining to the horrible scenes we have seen, it’s that overall— because bushfires are often seen from one season to the next—many people all across the nation have a decent working knowledge of how to stay safe if a bushfire erupts. 

Generally speaking, the same cannot be said for cyclones. Although certain parts of Australia encounter them annually, in others they’re largely unheard of. But a cyclone’s danger is immense if you encounter one unprepared. That’s why right now when many Aussies are holidaying around the nation, it’s a particularly good time to discuss what to do if you’re caught in a cyclone while driving.

The difference between fire and wind

If there's one advantage to being caught in a bushfire zone compared to a cyclone, it's that there’s at least some predictability around bushfires—they word here being some. As bushfire experts would tell you, fires can change in size and direction very fast as a result of wind and other factors—so nobody is ever safe in an active bushfire zone.

However, this minor difference is important, as cyclones will usually offer no clues to the average driver about which direction the next gigantic gust of wind and collection of dangerous debris may come from. This means that if you absolutely have to drive away from your current area—such as if you’ve gotten caught near a beach or riverbank that is quickly flooding over—it’s important to drive extra cautiously. This is the case not only because of the risk of debris, but also of other drivers who may also be making their way out of danger and in a state of panic.

What to do if you’re stuck

If you get caught in a cyclone while driving, you have two options. If you're a short distance from a safe location such as a shelter or town where there will be buildings you can seek safety in, driving on if (reasonably) safe to do so may be best. On the other hand, if conditions are rapidly worsening and making it unsafe to drive, stopping as soon as possible is likely your best bet.

Finding a very safe spot outside a proper shelter in a cyclone can be a challenge, but there are a number of particular hazards that you should avoid at all costs. Park your vehicle away from the ocean, rivers, and any other obvious water hazards. In addition, look to park away from power lines, trees, and any other visible hazards above you (such as a construction site with building materials on higher floors) that could be dangerous. Once you have found a safe place to park, put on your handbrake, switch off the engine, and prepare to make emergency contact.

Communication is key

Making contact with others is critical if you suddenly encounter a dangerous scenario. If you have come across a situation that immediately threatens your life or others around you, it’s important to call 000 right away. It’s also a good idea to send a quick SMS to an emergency contact like a family member or close friend—a phone call is also totally OK if need be, but be sure to keep it quick and to the point so you’re not distracted from the situation at hand. You should just let them know where you are and what the current safety issue is. For example, you may not be able to leave town because a tree is blocking the road and be forced to return home to seek shelter there.

Communication is important because it ensures you have some backup if something goes wrong and someone to liaise with emergency authorities regarding your whereabouts if you fall out of contact. Emergency services are sure to provide you advice and advise when assistance will be on its way. Your emergency contact will likely be unable to assist in this way, but ask them to ensure their phone is kept handy and update them once you have news and/or have reached safety. 

After the disaster

Whenever someone escapes a bushfire zone, it’s often easy to establish whether there are any physical injuries. Someone may have suffered a burn, or feel ill as a result of smoke inhalation. When it comes to a cyclone, people may leave the danger zone but not recognise until later that they need medical attention. That’s why it's important to do a quick health check of you and any other passengers once you are out of danger.

Even something like developing a headache should be attended to once you’re safe before you continue driving onwards. If you have any concerns that you may be in shock or have sustained an injury that could impact your driving, it’s important to seek shelter somewhere safe and abstain from driving until you feel better. This is especially important because when a cyclone is nearby, there are likely to be more hazards and lots of debris found along the road. Finally, if your clothes have gotten wet, try to swap them—or at least dry them—as fast as possible (the car heater can work in a pinch) to prevent the risk of developing skin irritations, hypothermia, or other health concerns.

Surviving the cyclone

With Australia averaging 9-13 cyclones a year, there’s an ongoing danger that Aussie drivers risk getting caught up in. Be sure you understand the difference between bushfires and cyclones. If a cyclone is rapidly worsening, try to leave the area, but quickly seek shelter if you can’t. Get in touch promptly with emergency contacts when the need arises, and be sure to check yourself after the cyclone has passed to ensure you haven’t incurred any injuries that need urgent medical attention. 

Nobody ever wants to get caught in a natural disaster. However, the good news is that even if you do get caught in a cyclone, with a solid plan in place you dramatically raise your odds of getting out of it safely and quickly. With this plan here you’ve a roadmap to safety, and following it step by step will help you navigate the challenges of getting caught in a cyclone. 

Have you ever gotten caught in a cyclone while driving? Let us know in the comments below.

Image: Pixabay