How To Stay Safe In A Dust Storm
If you love camping, then you know that nature can be unpredictable. Storms, floods, wild animals, and natural disasters can strike at any time, so it’s important to be ready for anything. Dust storms (also known as sand storms or haboobs) are not super common in the US, but it’s still good to know some dust storm safety tips.
Dust storms tend to move through an area fairly quickly. They usually pass in 30 minutes or less. However, they can do some serious damage during this time. The sand particles can damage your skin, eyes, nose, and lungs if you’re not protected. High winds can also blow away loose items and damage structures.
Whether you’re in the car or in your campsite, 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’re driving in a dust storm
Dust storms can easily overtake you, even if you’re driving at highway speeds. They can appear suddenly and limit your visibility. The winds can also rock your car and make it harder to stay on course.
This combination of factors can make anyone panic, but it’s important to stay calm when a dust storm arrives. If you panic, you’ll only endanger 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 affect you. If you keep your car grounded and centered on the road, it will be harder to buffet you off course. Make sure your lights are turned on during this time so cars around you can tell if you’re slowing down or not.
If you drive below the speed limit, you’re also reducing the dangers of a potential crash. If everyone drives slowly during this period of low visibility, deadly crashes are less likely to occur.
Use lights and horn
While you’re driving, you should make your presence known. Turn on your hazard lights if conditions are particularly bad, and keep your headlights and tail lights on at all times while you drive. Sound your horn occasionally to let others know where you are. Even if you don’t see anyone around you, it’s important to let people know that you’re nearby.
Look for a place to pull over
Even if you’re calm and driving slowly, dust storm safety dictates that you should stop moving altogether if possible. You’re still traveling on a road where careless drivers could crash into you, especially if they don’t see people slowing down around them.
It’s best to look for a place to pull off the road and wait out the storm. As mentioned earlier, most dust storms will pass within 30 minutes.
The National Weather Service has a protocol for people who are on the road when a dust storm arrives. They advise drivers to, “pull your vehicle off the pavement as far as possible, stop, turn off lights, set the emergency brake, take your foot off of the brake pedal to be sure the tail lights are not illuminated.” (source).
It might sound counterintuitive to turn off your lights because usually, you want people to know where you are. But in a low-visibility situation, it’s best to turn off your lights once you pull off the road. This prevents other drivers from seeing your lights and veering off the road to follow you.
Stay inside the vehicle
At this point, you just need to wait until the storm passes. If you try to leave the vehicle, you’ll be exposing yourself to the dangers of the dust storm. Your skin, eyes, and lungs can become damaged if you don’t have the proper protection. Just wait until conditions improve before you get out and look for help.
Switch AC to circulate
While you’re sheltering in your car, you need to do what you can to keep the dust out. Keep your windows and doors shut and switch your air conditioning to circulate. This might make the air a bit stale, but it won’t bring in too much outside dust.
Dust storm safety while camping
Retreat indoors or into a vehicle
It’s not fun if a dust storm strikes while you’re driving, but you’re in much more danger if you’re outdoors/camping when it happens. The first thing you need to do is seek shelter of some kind. Buildings are your best protection, so head to your camp’s rec hall or store if they have one.
If this isn’t an option, look for a car or RV. These will help you withstand gusts of wind and provide some protection against poor air quality. Only retreat into tents as a last resort because these can be ripped up by harsh winds. Plus, they aren’t as air-tight as other structures, so sand can get through.
Protect your face
Although dust storms can hurt your skin, your respiratory system is the thing you need to worry about the most. Breathing in fine particles of dust can cause serious reactions and will make you sick. Those with underlying conditions like asthma are at high risk during this situation.
For a DIY solution, you can wear a damp cloth or mask over your face to prevent dust inhalation. Wet fabric traps particles of dust before you can breathe them in. If you need more heavy-duty protection, a P2 or P3 mask will filter out even more debris.
Wear eye protection and long sleeves/pants
Dust storm safety protocols state that the rest of your body could use protection as well. You can get severe rashes or abrasions from high-speed sand particles, so wear long sleeves and pants. Goggles will shield your eyes from the worst of it as well. Glasses are better than nothing, but it’s still best to get goggles if you can.
Don’t wear your contacts if you find yourself caught in a dust storm. These can become irritated by the wind and debris and you don’t want to rub at your eyes during this time.
Apply petroleum jelly to nostrils
Despite your best efforts, you’ll probably inhale some dust if you’re outside during a dust storm. One way to prevent it from entering your lungs is to put petroleum jelly inside your nostrils. This lining will trap dust particles before they get too deep into your sinuses.
It’s not pleasant, but it will protect you from the effects of dust inhalation. Regularly clear out your nose and reapply the jelly as long as you’re outside.
Stay low to the ground
The higher up you are, the more the wind will affect you. If you stay low to the ground, you can usually avoid the worst effects of a dust storm. If you’re unable to locate shelter, lie flat on the ground and cover your face.
Avoid strenuous activity
Finally, don’t exert yourself during a dust storm. If you do anything that makes you pant or breathe heavily, you’ll be inhaling more debris. Don’t run around during this time or try to move anything particularly heavy. If you’re prone to allergies or asthma attacks, take appropriate medication as soon as the dust storm kicks up.
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