Keeping calm and alert in a storm: What motorists should do when strong winds and gales strike


24 October 2022

Press Release

Keeping calm and alert in a storm: What motorists should do when strong winds and gales strike

Wind speeds of up to 90mph rocked the UK during Storm Eunice in January 2022 – highlighting the deadly dangers facing motorists driving during high winds.

National Highways say in high winds, there’s a particular risk to lorries, caravans and motorbikes, so drivers should slow down and avoid using exposed sections of road if possible.

England has faced even worse than what Storm Eunice brought. The infamous Great Storm of October 1987 brought widespread impacts, with 18 people killed and around 15million trees blown down, causing major transport delays.

These are extremes, but winds not even a quarter of those record speeds pose huge threats. Whatever Mother Nature has in store for us over the next few months, just what steps can road users take when they need to travel?

National Highways has produced online guidance on its website for handling different weather conditions when the weather gets colder in an effort to keep road users as safe as possible on its motorways and A-roads.

Luke Hindle, National Network Manager at National Highways, said: “Gales and high winds can happen all year round, but most often occur during storms, and are even more prevalent during the autumn and winter seasons and early spring.

“It is therefore always important to plan ahead for your journey, and if weather conditions become challenging, adjust your driving behaviour and take extra care.

“We have a section of our website dedicated to travelling amid storms, high winds and gales, and considerations for different types of vehicle, as part of our guide to travelling in severe weather. It’s also a good idea for people to check their vehicles, such as tyres, coolant and oil levels, before heading out to reduce the risk of breakdowns.”

There are lots more travel tips, vehicle checks and useful motoring advice for negotiating severe weather on the National Highways website, in keeping with the Safer Roads Campaign, to help improve driver confidence when travelling as temperatures get colder, the nights draw in and the potential for fog, rain and high winds increase.

National Highways uses roadside signs to warn you of possible high winds or side winds. These can be displayed on electronic or fixed roadside signs. 

Some locations also have windsocks located on the roadside. These show you the direction and severity of the wind.

National Highways also monitor the network for debris and use specialist equipment to remove it as quickly as possible. And sometimes during severe weather, for safety certain structures may need to be closed to some or all vehicles. Where possible, signed diversion routes will be in place.

Travelling in strong winds and gales

 High winds can blow your vehicle off course or other vehicles into your path. Some vehicles are affected by high winds more than others. 

 Vulnerable Vehicles

Certain types of vehicles are more prone to the effects of high winds.  

  • Motorhomes 
  • Vans 
  • Transit vans with modifications 
  • Vehicles towing trailers or caravans,  
  • Motorcycles 
  • Tippers 
  • Double decker buses 
  • Articulated HGVs 
  • Abnormal loads 
  • Car transporters 
  • High-sided rigid HGVs 

If your vehicle is susceptible to high-wind conditions, consider delaying your journey until weather conditions improve if you can.

When you’re on the road

  • Slow down and keep focused on the road ahead – you may encounter debris blown in by the wind 
  • Avoid using exposed sections of road if possible. Lorries, caravans and motorbikes are at particular risk. 
  • Use both hands on the steering wheel to keep good control of your vehicle -gusts of wind can cause your vehicle to shake 
  • Look out for gaps in trees or buildings, or when crossing bridges – you’re more likely to encounter side winds here 
  • Keep room on either side of your vehicle to allow for it being blown sideways 
  • Watch out for side winds when passing larger high-sided vehicles - keep room on either side of your vehicle to allow for it being blown sideways 

 Keep to main roads if possible

Minor roads are more likely to be obstructed by fallen branches and debris, so keep to main routes if you can. 

The Highway Code

The Highway Code provides more information about driving during windy conditions. 

Ready for autumn and winter seasons 

Autumn and winter can bring more adverse and severe weather conditions which can affect motorists and these include fog, heavy rain, high winds and gales and ice and snow.

Along with more than 250 weather stations, that provide us with real time information about localised road conditions, National Highways works with independent meteorological experts DTN and Metdesk which run from October 1 to April 30 and complement the national Met Office weather forecast, providing a level of granularity and precision about changing road surface temperatures across our road network. This gives us the detailed knowledge determine where and when to salt roads so they remain open and safe for people to use.

All of the information we gather helps us to inform road users about current road conditions whatever the weather. We also share information through channels including our website, third party travel providers including sat nav companies and local radio stations.  

Abigail Oakes, Senior Account Manager at the Met Office, said: “We’re working closely with National Highways throughout the year to help people stay safe on the roads. 

“In addition to our year-round national forecasts, National Highways have access to Met Office meteorologists working alongside their team to offer support throughout the autumn and winter. Together, we’re providing the best possible support for road users during periods of severe weather.” 

A spokesperson for the Met Office said, “Storms Arwen and Eunice were potent reminders of the impacts of windy weather in the UK. However, windy weather can occur without a named storm, so it’s important to check the travel advice and be aware of how the weather can impact travel plans.”


Travel updates

Drivers are advised to follow messages on the overhead signs and listen to radio updates.

Further information is available on travelling in winter web page.

Further information can be found by visiting the travel updates page, and by following @highwaysnwest @highwaysneast @highwaysseast @highwaysswest @highwayseast @highwayswmids, @highwaysemids @highwaysyorks on Twitter or calling the National Highways Customer Contact Centre on 0300 123 5000.

Notes to Editors

National Highways is the wholly government-owned company responsible for modernising, maintaining and operating England’s motorways and major A roads.

Real-time traffic information for England’s motorways and major A roads is available via the Traffic England website, local and national radio travel bulletins, electronic road signs and mobile apps. Local Twitter services are also available.

For further information please contact National Highways' press office (24hrs) on 0844 693 1448 and select the most appropriate option:

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