Be prepared for safe travel this severe weather season

​​​April Law of the Month: Safe driving in severe weather 

Release date: April 4, 2023

Wisconsin State Patrol reminds drivers to prepare for changing weather conditions as severe weather season begins. 

Drivers are encouraged to be weather aware in the spring and summer months, when severe conditions like thunderstorms, flooding and tornadoes are common. 

“Safe driving conditions can quickly turn dangerous when a storm moves in,” State Patrol Superintendent Tim Carnahan said. “Take extra caution if you’re caught on the roads in inclement weather. Buckle up, avoid distractions and slow down to keep yourself and your passengers safe.”

Safe driving in severe weather is Wisconsin State Patrol’s April Law of the Month. State law requires drivers to travel at speeds that are reasonable and prudent for current conditions. That may mean slowing below the speed limit and keeping a larger distance from other vehicles. 

Plan ahead for a safe spring

If you know a storm is on the way, check your local forecast and monitor 511 Wisconsin before you leave, to see the latest travel advisories on your route. Consider rescheduling your trip if the weather looks threatening. 

This year, Wisconsin will mark Tornado and Severe Weather Awareness Week from April 17-21, to encourage everyone to be prepared in case of an emergency. The statewide tornado drill is set for April 20 to help schools and families practice how to respond during a tornado warning.

Throughout the year, Wisconsin Department of Transportation partners with other state agencies, including Wisconsin Emergency Management, to coordinate response to statewide weather emergencies. 

“Emergency management officials and emergency responders are working hard every day to make sure we're ready when disaster hits, but it's also important for everyone in Wisconsin to prepare, too,” WEM Administrator Greg Engle said. “Every family should have a plan for what to do at home in an emergency. Talk about the safest place to go during a tornado and how you’ll get in contact in a crisis.” 

Visit ReadyWisconsin for information on developing an emergency plan for your household.

Safe travel in severe weather 

If you’re not at home, your phone can alert you to severe weather threats in your area. Wireless Emergency Alerts, or WEAs, are free, automatic notifications sent to users in geographically targeted areas. You do not need to subscribe to the alerts but should check the settings on your mobile device to ensure WEA messages are activated. 

In addition to a fully charged phone, drivers should also keep an emergency kit in the vehicle, including a phone charger, first aid kit, flashlight, jumper cables, clothing and snacks in case you become stranded in a storm. 

In inclement weather, drivers should consider: 

  • Rain or fog: Take extra caution.
    • Slow down. It can be harder to control or stop a vehicle in wet weather. 
    • Increase your following distance so you’ll have plenty of time to stop for vehicles ahead of you. 
    • Look closely for pedestrians and bicyclists who may be harder to see. 
    • Never use your high beam lights because they can cause glare, making it more difficult to see the road. 
    • Keep your tires and wipers in good shape. 
  • Strong winds: Especially dangerous on open roads. 
    • ​Slow down and keep both hands on the wheel to control the vehicle. 
    • Strong wind gusts can push vehicles out of their lanes, so keep a safe distance from other cars.
    • High profile vehicles, like semi trucks and vans, and vehicles towing trailers are more prone to being pushed or flipped by high wind gusts. 
    • Watch for objects blowing across the road and into your path.
  • Thunderstorms and tornadoes: Generally, the safest place to be during severe weather is indoors, so postpone your trip if possible. 
    • If you’re outside when a storm develops, a hard-topped vehicle is a safer location than being outdoors to protect you from lightning, damaging wind, or hail.
    • A vehicle is one of the most dangerous locations to be during a tornado warning. If you’re traveling, you should look for a sturdy shelter to take cover. 
  • Flooding: It’s common for roads to be flooded during or after heavy rains. More than half of all flood fatalities are vehicle-related, according to the National Weather Service. 
    • Never drive into standing water. It only takes a foot of rushing water to sweep away or float a small car and roads could be washed out under the water. 
    • Just six inches of floodwater will reach the bottom of most passenger cars, causing loss of control and possible stalling.
    • If you see barriers, turn around and find another route. 
  • Extreme heat: The summer months can be especially dangerous in a vehicle. 
    • Never leave children or pets in parked, unattended vehicles – even for a few minutes. Vehicles heat up quickly and become deadly in hot weather. 

For more information, contact:

WisDOT Office of Public Affairs
(608) 266-3581,