With walls of rolling dust rising as high as 10,000 feet, the surreal dust storms experienced by the Southwest resemble images seen in movies like The Mummy. Unlike the silver screen images, these storms are real and hit the region several times every year, rerouting aircraft and turning daylight to dusk.

Being on the roads during a dust storm can be incredibly dangerous.

These six tips will keep you and your loved ones safe when traveling during a dust storm.

1. Be Aware: The ultimate tool of defensive driving is awareness. This applies to every aspect of driving including weather. Natives and long-time residents of the Southwest already know that dust storms can develop quickly when a storm front is brewing. Awareness and understanding of the possible danger is the first step to dealing with it. When there is even a chance of a dust storm, it is best to listen to local radio or the weather service. These two sources can provide you with notice of a developing dust storm.

2. Look For Signs: There are telltale signs of a developing dust storm that everyone should know. The most common sign is a general haziness that develops in one part of the sky. In Arizona, this haziness is generally seen in the south. It will appear to be a hazy brown discoloration of the sky. It may be low in the sky, so keep your eyes open. This is the initial stage of a dust storm. The further off you see the storm developing, the more options you have to deal with it.

3. Run To Safety: If possible, work to outrun the storm. Generally, dust storms are slow moving and can be avoided by rerouting your trip, or simply working to get ahead of or past the storm. Some dust storms have been clocked at 75 miles per hour, which brings us to an important point: it is never safe to drive at high speeds. If it is not safe to outrun the storm, then it is time to pull over and wait for the dust storm to pass.

4. Slow Down: As dust storms hit, visibility diminishes quickly. This causes an obvious danger of hitting other cars or being hit yourself. At 55 miles per hour, a vehicle needs almost 230 feet to come to a stop. That is a very long stretch and can be too much to overcome if a stopped car suddenly appears in front of you. Even if visibility is only slightly reduced, you are encouraged to maintain a four-second gap between you and all other vehicles in front of you when you can.

5. Get Off The Road: Drivers are advised to pull off the highway as soon as they can, according to Bart Graves, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Some people are notorious for not slowing down, which can have lethal consequences. If visibility drops below 300 feet, you should exit the highway/freeway or pull over. Do not stop in the lanes of traffic.

Once you are off the road, set your parking brake and take your foot off of the brake pedal. Also make sure your turn signals and all other lights are off as well. In many cases, drivers use taillights of the vehicle in front of them as a navigation guide. If you are sitting stationary on the side of the road with lights on, you run the risk of being hit by another car. If you are unable to safely pull off the road, turn on your headlights and turn your hazard lights off. Slow down and move forward cautiously. Use the highway’s center line as a guide and pull over at the first safe area on the road.

6. Wait It Out: Once you are stopped and have all lights off, it is important to stay put. Stay inside the car and shut all vents that draw air in from the outside. It can be dangerous to leave your vehicle primarily because of limited vision. The danger of walking back onto the highway is very real, or even into areas where drop-offs exist. Stay inside and ride out the storm. They are known for passing quickly, and a few minutes of delay could save your life.

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