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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Super Fog – Tips For Dealing With A Dangerous Weather Phenomenon

As we enter into the spring time, which is a drier period in the south, the forest fire emergency levels will increase. The fire season presents some unique problems due to a little known weather phenomenon called "Super Fog". Super fog is not limited to the south but the weather conditions, namely high humidity, normally prevalent in the southern part of the US, makes the area more prone to the phenomenon.

To understand super fog we have to look at how smoke from wildfires or controlled burns can create the conditions for a super fog.

Smoke and ash from a burn mix with the humidity in the air forming tiny droplets around each speck of ash or solid contaminant produced by the fire. As the droplets accumulate, the smoke turns into a combination of smoke and fog creating a super fog that can form as an almost solid wall with visibility reduced to near zero. Super fog appears most often at night and forms most readily at a low level over creek and river beds. While it most often forms at night, it is usually at its heaviest in the early morning hours before the heat of the sun can burn it off. That means it is present most often during the morning rush hour. The problem with super fog is that it is almost impossible for weather forecasters and scientists to predict because the local winds at night are unpredictable and the super fog can form more than 20 to 30 miles away from the site of the fire.

Super fog is especially dangerous on high-speed highways and interstates when cars and trucks, traveling at high rates of speed enter into an almost zero visibility situation that can cover the highway for miles. The inability of cars and trucks to see each other and to slow or stop at the same rate of speed creates a critically dangerous situation. In January of 2008, a controlled burn in central Florida created a super fog event that blanketed Interstate - 4 west of Orlando. Cars and trucks entering the fog began crashing into one another leading to a pile-up that ultimately involved 70 vehicles, 38 injuries and 4 deaths. Another fog related pile-up in California in 2007 involved 100 vehicles resulting in 2 deaths.

Super fogs are impossible to predict and it is impossible to predict when they may lift or how far away from the actual fire they can occur. How can you avoid getting trapped in a super-fog?

  • Before entering an interstate for a night time or early morning commute, listen to local news, weather, and traffic reports. If there are reports of a wild fire or foggy conditions in your local area, consider taking an alternate route and avoid high-speed roadways altogether.
  • If you are on an interstate, watch for electronic or "fold-out" signs warning of fog ahead.
  • In foggy conditions, SLOW DOWN! Most of the major pile-ups occurred because drivers didn’t slow down and, once it was too late, they couldn’t stop in time to avoid hitting a slow or stalled vehicle ahead.
  • Do not use your bright beams. The high beams of your bright lights will reflect off the fog causing increased glare. Use low beams only.
  • The lack of any visual references while driving in fog can make it seem like you are going slower than you actually are. Pay attention to your speedometer and REDUCE YOUR SPEED!
  • Avoid lane changes. If you are unable to avoid a lane change, use extra caution before moving over and always use your turn signals.
  • Roll down the driver's side window and listen for anything unusual that can warn you of a problem up ahead.
  • Do not use your cell phone while driving or engage in any other distracting activities such as eating or playing the radio too loudly. Concentrate 100% on the road conditions around you as far as you possibly can.
  • Scan your rear view mirrors for warning of vehicles behind that may be approaching too fast.
  • If you are approaching an exit, exit the roadway and use an alternate route.
  • If, for any reason, you have to stop, pull off the roadway as far as you possibly can and activate your emergency blinkers. Once you are off the roadway, get out of your vehicle and walk as far away from the roadway as you can. Once you are safely out of your car, you should use your cell phone to call the police or highway patrol and alert them to the conditions.
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