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Spotted a tornado? Here's what SA motorists should do

2016-07-27 10:48

TORNADO HITS JOZI Johannesburg experienced a tornado in July 2016. Read our guide to safely navigate adverse weather conditions in SA. Image: Arrive Alive

Cape Town - On Tuesday, News24 reported that a tornado has caused havoc in Johannesburg. The tornado left destruction in its wake, damaging property and disrupting traffic.

Though a rarity in South Africa compared to many parts of the world, such as the USA, witnessing one of nature's most destructive forms should be treated with respect and not experienced up close. This is especially of concern to motorists who 'chase' after tornadoes in their vehicles.

People tend to forget is that a tornado can wreck serious damage. 

In SA, motorists are more likely to be exposed to strong winds than tornadoes but it does not mean that these storms should be approached with less caution.

Strong winds present unique challenges to motorists: List by Arrive Alive

  • Sudden gusts of wind can catch you off guard, hitting your vehicle with force.
  • High winds moving below your vehicle can affect handling and braking.
  • Tall vehicles can be blown around.

Scroll further down for tornado tips...

How to steer and control your vehicle during strong winds:

  • A firm grip with both hands is required when the wind begins to move your vehicle.
  • At reduced speeds you have more time to react and avoid hazards such as debris or other road users straying out of their lanes.
  • In mountainous areas, debris (i.e rocks) can tumble onto the road.
  • Be prepared and able if you are required to make a sudden stop.
  • At slower speeds you will also have better control of your vehicle.
  • The faster you drive the further off-course you're likely to drift in a sudden gust before you're able to regain control.
  • Increase your following distance (five to six seconds) between you and the car in front to avoid tailgating.
  • Turn on headlights as you may encounter potentially lower visibility created by dust, sand, snow or rain.
  • Be prepared to make steering corrections when driving from wind-protected areas to exposed areas (i.e leaving a tunnel onto an open road during a storm).
  • Be extra careful when driving near trucks in heavy storms. Give them some extra space.
  • Only overtake if you need to and you are convinced that you can do so safely.
  • If your vehicle is affected by a sudden gust, don't turn your steering wheel erratically. Smooth and gentle movements are needed to avoid oversteering and losing control.

READ: Caught in heavy rain? Here's what SA motorists should do

Johan Jonck, Arrive Alive editor, says: "As with driving in all conditions of bad weather, if you are alerted to these conditions that are prevalent in an area, rather delay travel. 'Storm Chasing' is something we find on the Discovery Channel and should not be done by motorists.

"Be aware that there is much more that the gust of wind to be concerned with as strong winds and tornadoes also bring about deadly debris such as fallen tree branches, metal from signage, etc. On the road we may also find other vehicles being pushed out of their lanes and into oncoming traffic."

For more safety tips, visit Arrive Alive.

The American Safety Council gives advice on driving through heavy winds/tornadoes

Low visibility

If you’re driving in a storm, don’t expect to see much of what’s in front of you. Rain will be pouring down, so it’s likely you visibility will be low in all directions.

Low traction

Your vehicle can experience low traction during a thunderstorm. This means it will take longer to brake and strong winds and rain will reduce your control.

READ: Stuck in N3 snow? Here's what SA motorists should do


During severe thunderstorms, the wind can grow strong enough to move your car, forcing your to keep a firm grip on the wheel to avoid ending up in the grass or the incorrect lane.

Other drivers

You may encounter impatient drivers who tailgate, overtake, or speed during the storm. You may also experience nervous drivers and congestion. With reduced traction and visibility, simply driving behind someone can become a dangerous in a thunderstorm.

Do not try to outrun the tornado

Flooring the accelerator pedal when seeing a tornado is not always a wise choice. A tornado’s path is unpredictable and it can switch directions randomly.

You could be driving away from a tornado when it suddenly charges down your path. Even F1 tornadoes (the least powerful class) can exert wind speeds of up to 180km/h. Keep in mind that the faster you drive the easier it becomes for the tornado to move or lift your car.

For more information from the American Safety Council, click here.


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