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Don’t Park Under an Overpass in a Hail Storm, You’re Creating a Deathtrap

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Tony Maples Photography


We are well into the heart of severe weather season in the Plains. Last weekend’s devastating storms in eastern Texas were just the latest well-covered reminder.  Chances are that you will have to deal with some storms while out and about this Spring. If you are driving along the highway and encounter a hail storm, your first reaction may be to pull beneath an overpass. We’re begging you, please don’t.

While chasing storms, storm chasers often see people engaged in this dangerous practice. Meteorologists have been warning against this since the 1990s after some popular videos showed people riding out tornadoes beneath the structures. Many people have been killed by tornadoes on highways trying the exact same thing. People survive disasters in all sorts of crazy ways. Animals have been seen standing outside during tornadoes come away completely unharmed, and others, not. The thing about those that don’t survive is that you never hear their stories because they’re dead. If anything, the shape of the overpass actually increases wind speeds, and many do not have girders to crawl between.

You may not recognize what is coming your way. This is the widest tornado on record in the U.S.
Don't Park Under an Overpass in a Hail Storm, You're Creating a Deathtrap
Photo: Jason Weingart

If you find yourself driving into a strong thunderstorm and start hearing hail impact your vehicle it’s natural to look at that overpass as a good shelter. You think it will save you costly vehicles repairs (most full coverage insurance covers hail damage) and provide shelter to those in your vehicle (hail is often windblown and travels in a diagonal path). This is one of those instances where you have to think past your own personal inconvenience.

When hail starts to fall, here is how this situation unfolds over and over again on highways across America. One person decides to stop on the shoulder under the overpass of a major highway. The hail gets bigger. More starts to fall. Other people jam their vehicles under the bridge until there is no remaining cover on the shoulder. Finally, people simply stop in the middle of the lanes of the roadway, creating a traffic jam that can backup for miles.

This is not a hypothetical situation, it happens frequently.

Parking under an overpass during a storm is an incredibly selfish thing to do. It causes traffic jams and accidents. It also blocks first responders trying to get to scenes which require their attention. Those parked beneath an overpass during a storm are basically saying that their vehicle is more important than other’s lives.

Furthermore, there could be something even worse behind all of that hail. The region of supercell thunderstorms which produce tornadoes tend to follow behind the heaviest precipitation, so although it may appear the storm is subsiding, the worst is yet to come. If a tornado is bearing down on a traffic jam, then everyone is at risk, including those who have selfishly blocked the interstate.

The best course of action when dealing with a hail storm is to pull over, preferably before you drive into the precipitation. Take shelter in a sturdy building. Driving your vehicle at an appreciable speed will increase the force of the hail impact. Storms during daylight with large amounts of hail may have a greenish glow and hail shafts will appear much whiter than the surrounding rain.

Your actions during severe weather can make the difference between life and death for you and those around you. Vehicles can be replaced, people’s lives can not.

The Vane