Staying safe and alert during a sandstorm
A hot wind moving fast across the desert can not only bring with it unstable weather conditions but also propel truck-loads of stinging sand into your face and on to your windshield. The Shamal, as such northerly winds are called in the Middle East (the North Americans call it the Chinook), creates dangerous driving conditions, particularly during summer months.
The best thing you can do during a blustering, blinding Shamal sandstorm is to stay indoors. You’d need to be seriously deluded, or on an emergency mission, to be out on the roads behind the wheel of a car at such a time. Remember, like all storms, the Shamal too shall pass.
During a sandstorm in 2015, the Dubai Police Control and Command Centre posted reports of 135 moderate and minor traffic accidents between 6am and noon. There were more than 1,600 calls made to emergency services during just those six hours.
If you have to drive during such weather conditions, make sure you remember all the common sense advice handed out during driver training – drive with caution, at low speed, with car lights on, and leave a safe distance between cars.
Low visibility is the number one cause of serious crashes. Since the sand lashes out and may completely blanket the road you’re on, drivers experience complete disorientation. If you’re in a vehicle, the advice is to stay away from the course of the storm – if you see one approaching on the horizon, you can outdrive the relatively slow-moving wind and change your route.
Visibility may be reduced to a mere 100m to 500m – or less in some areas. And debris on the road may compound your discomfort. Here is Carlease’s list of sensible ways to drive during a sandstorm.
Don’t stop: Like driving through fog, don’t stop on the road. Cars coming behind you may not see you in time to stop. Slow down and follow the white lines on the road to stay on track. Use low beam lights and please do not turn on your hazard lights, or flashers, under any circumstances, ever.
Where are you going: Make sure someone knows that you’re on your way. Keep them informed of your route, the type of vehicle, and how you can be contacted.
Who are you with: If there are others with you, know any potential health issues they may face – someone suffering from dust allergies is likely to turn to you for help if they have a problem.
Communication: Is your phone’s battery fully charged? Do you have spare batteries or a means to recharge, if needed? Does your phone service cover the areas you’re traveling to? If you’re heading out to a remote location, equip yourself with a satellite phone.
GPS: Keep a handheld GPS device handy. And don’t forget a good old north-pointing compass.
Drive without distractions: Focus; don’t multi-task. Avoid using cruise control.
Check your car: Is your car Shamal-worthy? At Carlease, we undertake Summer Maintenance of all our vehicles to ensure that they don’t let you down in extreme conditions. Keep your windows and mirrors clean. Be armed with a spare tire, spare fan belts, tools, extra gas, water, and oil. Make sure your fuel tank is full.
Be prepared: Do you have enough drinking water? A flashlight? Do you have an emergency kit?
On desert roads: Roads may not have windbreaks and you’re likely to find sand accumulated on the tarmac. The only thing to do, experts say, is to not speed and make your way with vigilance and caution. If you find it safer to discontinue driving, stop on the right side of the road, avoiding trees, billboards, and construction sites. Don’t park near buildings which are under construction.
If you’re stuck: Stop revving. Check if it’s possible to reverse out of the sand berm. Turn the steering wheel from side to side while you accelerate gently. If necessary, get on your hands and knees to dig out sand from under the wheels – but only after the storm has passed. Deflate your tires by 50 per cent. Push the accelerator slowly and avoid increasing RPM over 2,000 when you try again.
If you can’t dig your vehicle out of the sand, raise the hood so rescue operators can be alerted to an emergency. This is the time to turn on your blinking hazard lights.
If you are driving a Carlease vehicle, we’ve got you covered with emergency numbers you can call, day or night, sand or storm. We’re there for you.