How to Plan for the Weather During Your Road Trip

Two women reading a map in the open truck of a suv, parked on a snowy road

Cavan Images / Cavan / Getty Images

Weather plays a huge role in road tripping; it can turn an immaculately planned-out vacation into a total nightmare if you're not careful. U.S. Department of Transportation data shows that weather events cause more than 1 million crashes, half a million injuries, and more than 6,000 deaths every year. During certain times of the year, wind, rain, hail, snow, and ice can send you into a ditch and put abrupt end to your trip. But there are several ways to prepare for inclement weather before getting behind the wheel.

Packing for Weather 

No one wants to have to make a pit stop at the nearest Target because they forgot to bring a pair of sunnies or a sweatshirt when the weather takes a turn. There are a few items no road tripper should leave home without.

  • Polarized sunglasses: At times, the sun's rays can obstruct vision, so don't forget to bring your eye protection.
  • Ample socks and underwear: Wet socks and undies without a fresh change make for a poor traveling experience.
  • Waterproof jacket: You never know when a rain or snow cloud may come along.
  • Light jacket: Be sure to pack a hoodie, a light sweater, a cardigan, or something to keep you warm, even if it's the middle of summer.
  • An outfit you don't mind getting dirty: In the unfortunate case of a flat tire, you're going to wish you brought more than your nice vacation clothes to roll around on the ground in.
  • Emergency prep kit: Most importantly, get yourself an emergency kit to travel with. You can find ones containing first aid items, flares, and hazard markers in superstores like Walmart or Camping World. If you’re driving through nasty winter conditions, you’ll also need a season-specific emergency travel kit containing heavy coats, blankets, snacks, water, and other survival items in case you get stranded during a blizzard. 

After you’ve packed the necessities, check the weather patterns and predictions for your road trip dates to decipher what else you might need to take. While it is important to pack light for long car rides, it's more important to not leave critical pieces behind. 

Tuning Into Emergency Weather Information

The National Weather Service's Enhanced Data Display (EDD) app allows you to create a custom map and track future weather along a specific route. This service provides access to satellite imagery, real-time weather data, and forecasted hazards that may be applicable to your travels.

Otherwise, you can resort to more traditional methods, such as tuning into local AM radio stations as you cruise from town to town. You can use the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) website to find the radio frequency for your location. NOAA frequencies can help you get accurate, real-time information that not all apps can provide. 

Driving Through Heavy Winds

Heavy winds, even on a sunny day, are the bane of road trippers, especially RVers. It’s best to get broad-sided vehicles like large trucks and recreational vehicles off the road in the event of severe gusts. Wind at just 50 or 60 miles per hour can indeed blow you and your carload into a ditch. If high winds are in the forecast, consider sheltering in place until things calm down.

Dealing With Snow or Ice 

Know your ride and know the road before you attempt to drive in winter weather. Rear-wheel drive vehicles can’t handle much ice at all and front-wheel drives are average when it comes to slick surfaces, but all-wheel and four-wheel drives are better equipped for it. When you encounter signs advising or requiring vehicles to have snow chains on the tires—oftentimes at higher elevation or in the far north—adhere to them and know how install them beforehand. If you anticipate icy weather, it would be wise to keep chains in the trunk of your car.