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

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Weather plays a huge role on a road trips; it can turn a perfect trip into a total nightmare. You like to know what’s ahead and what you’ll be driving through so you are as prepared as you can be. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, weather events cause more than 1 million crashes, half a million injuries, and 6,000 deaths every year, so wind and rain should never be taken lightly.

No matter what time of year you are road tripping or where you’re going, weather events like wind, rain, hail, snow, and ice can send you into a ditch or another vehicle essentially putting a stop to your trip. Luckily there are several ways to prepare for weather during your road trip, including a powerful app, necessary packing, smart planning, and more.

Packing for Weather 

No one likes veering off to a department store or getting off schedule to visit the mall for necessary clothing. Be sure to pack for weather before you hit the road. No matter the current conditions, there are items you should never hit the road without including:

  • Polarized sunglasses: Cuts down glare and makes driving much easier.
  • Ample socks and underwear: Wet socks and undies without a fresh change makes for a poor traveling experience.
  • Waterproof jacket: You never know when rain or snow will strike.
  • Light jacket: Hooded sweatshirt, light sweater, cardigan, etc. Always useful even if you’re road tripping in the middle of summer.
  • Trash pants and shirt: You never know what road trips will bring so always pack a shirt and pair of pants you aren’t afraid to ruin. 
  • Emergency prep kit: No road tripper should leave home without a travel emergency kit. Available at any superstore like Walmart or Camping World, emergency travel kits contain first aid items, flares, hazard markers, and other items to get you out of a bind. If you’re driving through nasty winter conditions, you’ll also need a winter emergency travel kit with heavy coats, blankets, snacks, water, and more in case you get stranded during a snowstorm. 

We don’t know where you’re going and when, but you do. After you’ve packed the necessities, look at average forecasts, weather predictions, and climate history to learn what else you’ll need. For example, you’ll always need a medium or heavy coat no matter the time of year at Glacier Bay National Park, and you’ll need a long-sleeve sun-proof shirt if you’re headed to the Gulf Coast. It’s important to pack light on road trips but don’t leave critical pieces behind. 

Using the Weather on Wheels App

TripSavvy has tried out several weather apps, but the best one we’ve found to track weather on road trips is the aptly named Weather on Wheels. 

Enter your starting location, destination, and start time and Weather on Wheels does the rest, displaying weather forecasts from the U.S. National Weather Service along with your entire route. If a storm or other weather event is predicted for anywhere on your itinerary, the app will track weather conditions and may tell you to either change your departure time or choose an alternative route.

Weather on Wheels includes these helpful features:

  • Options to display the predicted travel time, chance of rain, forecasted winds, or air temperature within the icons.
  • Updated icons displaying more weather conditions.
  • Pull-down legend describing the weather icons.
  • Calendar to pick the road trip departure date.

Weather on Wheels was developed by students at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi with the assistance of faculty and staff at the Conrad Blucher Institute and the Coastal Bend Business Innovation Center. The app is available for iPhone and Android smartphones; you can also check your route's weather forecast on the Weather on Wheels website.

Weather Resources and Services 

Weather on Wheels is a great app meant specifically for long drives, but it’s not the only weather-related resource. There are several weather apps with subtle differences like AccuWeather, Weather.com. WeatherBug, and more. It’s best to use several weather-tracking apps since they use different teams and forecast experts. You can’t overdo it on weather apps. Play around with the different apps and features until you find one that works well for you. 

Emergency Weather Information

Every town you drive through will have a dedicated AM radio channel to address road information, including weather. 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 information on weather events happening in real time that apps can’t always help you with. 

Local Radio

If you’re having trouble finding emergency weather information you can always tune to local news and radio. The local forecast may only apply to your immediate area and not future destinations, but it can tell you things apps don’t like when the storm is expected to arrive, what roads are likely to be affected, and when and if you should seek cover. 

Encountering Heavy Winds

Heavy winds, even on a sunny day, are the bane of roadtrippers, especially RVers. It’s best to get broad-sided vehicles like large trucks or RVs off the road during severe wind. Gusts as little as 50 to 60 miles an hour can blow you and your whole family into a ditch. 

If high winds are forecast, shelter in place until things calm down. All it takes is one heavy gust to ruin your trip. 

Encountering Severe Weather or Tornados 

There is no reason to drive through severe thunderstorms, especially if there are tornado or strong wind advisories. If you know severe weather is coming, you should pull off and shelter in place. One sizable gust or even a few seconds of blowing rain could be enough to wreck you. 

Dealing With Snow or Ice 

You don’t need to get off the road every time you see a flake of snow, but you do need to watch road conditions when snow and ice are a danger. Know your ride and know the road. Rear-wheel drive vehicles can’t handle much ice at all, front-wheel drives perform average on slick roads, while all-wheel and 4x4s are the best in icy or snowy conditions. If you see everyone getting off the road during a snowstorm, take that as a sign you should too. 

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