How to stay safe in a dust storm
If you love camping, you know that nature can be unpredictable. Storms, floods, wildlife, and natural disasters can strike at any time, so it’s important to be prepared for anything. Dust storms (also called sandstorms or haboob storms) are not very common in the United States, but it’s always good to know some dust storm safety tips.
Dust storms tend to move through an area quite quickly. They usually pass in 30 minutes or less. However, they can do a lot of damage during this time. Sand particles can damage your skin, eyes, nose and lungs if you are not protected. High winds can also carry loose objects and damage structures.
Whether you’re driving or camping, dust storm safety is important. There are several things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones if you act quickly. Read below to learn more.
What to do if you drive in a sandstorm?
Dust storms can easily overtake you even when you are driving at high speed. They can appear suddenly and limit your visibility. Winds can also buffet your car, making it difficult to stay on course.
This combination of factors can cause anyone to panic, but it’s important to remain calm when a sandstorm is brewing. If you panic, you are only endangering yourself and others on the road around you.
The next thing you should do is slow down. The faster you drive, the easier it is for the wind to hit you. Keeping the car on the ground and centered on the road makes it harder to swerve. Make sure your lights are on during this time so cars around you can tell if you’re slowing down or not.
Going below the speed limit also reduces the risk of a possible accident. If everyone drives slowly during this time of poor visibility, there is less chance of fatal accidents.
Use the lights and the horn
You have to make yourself known while driving. Turn on your hazard lights when conditions are particularly bad, and always keep your headlights and taillights on while driving. Honk your horn from time to time to let others know where you are. Even if you don’t see anyone around, it’s important to let people know you’re there.
Find a parking space
Even if you are calm and drive slowly, dust storm safety requires that you come to a complete stop whenever possible. You’re still driving down a road where careless drivers can crash into you, especially if they don’t see people slowing down around them.
The best thing to do is find a place where you can pull off the road and wait out the storm. As mentioned, most dust storms will pass within 30 minutes.
The National Weather Service has a protocol for people who are present when a sandstorm is approaching. They advise drivers to “move the vehicle as far away from the curb as possible, put on the brakes, turn off the lights, apply the emergency brake, take your foot off the brake pedal to make sure the lights don’t come on.” (The fountain).
Turning off the lights can seem counterintuitive because you usually want people to know where you are. But in a poor visibility situation, it’s best to turn your lights off as soon as you pull off the road. This will prevent other drivers from seeing your lights and pulling off the road to follow you.
stay in the vehicle
At this point, all that remains is to wait for the storm to pass. If you try to get out of the vehicle, you expose yourself to the dangers of the sandstorm. Your skin, eyes, and lungs can be damaged if you don’t have proper protection. Just wait for conditions to improve before you go out and seek help.
Switch AC to circulation
While you’re protected in your car, you need to do whatever it takes to keep the dust out. Keep doors and windows closed and turn on the air conditioning to circulate. It can make the air a bit stale, but it doesn’t create too much dust outside.
Dust storm safety for camping
Pick up inside or in a vehicle.
It’s no fun when a dust storm happens while you’re driving, but you’re in much more danger if you’re outside/camping when it happens. The first thing you have to do is find some kind of shelter. Buildings are your best defense, so head to your camp game room or buy one if you have one.
If that’s not an option, look into a car or RV. These will help you resist gusts of wind and provide some protection against poor air quality. Retreat to your tents only as a last resort, as strong winds can rip them apart. They are also not airtight like other structures, allowing sand to seep in.
protect your face
Although dust storms can damage your skin, what you should be most concerned about is your respiratory system. Breathing fine dust particles can cause serious reactions and make you sick. People with underlying conditions such as asthma are at particular risk in this situation.
For a DIY solution, you can use a wet wipe or face mask to prevent dust inhalation. Wet fabric traps dust particles before you can breathe them in. If you need more stringent protection, a P2 or P3 mask filters even more dirt.
Wear safety glasses and long sleeves/pants
Dust storm safety protocols state that the rest of your body could also benefit from protection. You can get serious rashes or abrasions from high speed sand particles, so wear long sleeves and pants. Goggles also protect your eyes from the worst. Glasses are better than nothing, but it’s always better to get them if you can.
Don’t wear contact lenses if you’re caught in a sandstorm. These can hurt from wind and dirt, and you don’t want to rub your eyes.
Apply Vaseline to the nostrils.
No matter how hard you try, you’re likely to breathe in dust if you’re outside during a sandstorm. One way to prevent it from entering the lungs is to put petroleum jelly in the nostrils. This lining traps dust particles before they get too deep into the sinuses.
It’s not comfortable, but it protects you from the effects of inhaling dust. Clean your nose regularly and reapply the jelly while you are outdoors.
Stay low to the ground
The higher you are, the harder the wind hits you. Staying low to the ground can usually prevent the worst effects of a dust storm. If you cannot find shelter, lie down on the ground and cover your face.
Avoid strenuous activities
Finally, don’t overload yourself during a sandstorm. If you’re doing something that makes you wince or gasp, you’re breathing dirtier. During this time, do not rush or try to move especially heavy objects. If you’re prone to allergies or asthma attacks, take the right medications as soon as the dust storm hits.
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