Storm Chaser: The Dangers That Follow Heavy Rains

Flooded street
Rising water during an isolated storm floods the road and drags gravel, silt and debris onto the roadway.

The sun may be shining now, but the dangers associated with that recent downpour may still be lingering around the next corner.

Many of the roads we love most meander along streams and rivers. During a storm, those ribbons of water often flood the adjacent roadway and then recede, leaving a mess of trouble for the rider. Even in areas where no stream is nearby, rushing water can instantly appear as storm runoff descends from hillsides, sloping yards and steep driveways during a heavy downpour. The waters rage across the road surface, dragging rocks, sticks, tree branches and an abundance of mud.

None of us likes to ride in foul weather. But, while we may be mindful of danger when dark clouds and lightning appear, we often forget about risk once the sun emerges and the road surface dries. When rain has moved on, it’s easy for us to move on as well, picking up the pace and riding as if everything is normal. But road conditions are often not back to “normal” in the hours — or even days — following a severe storm.

dirty road surface
Just a few hours after the storm, the sun shines and the road dries, but dangerous silt and debris can catch the unsuspecting rider by surprise.

Look for uneven color on the road. Light tan areas on the surface may be fine silt that has been washed onto the road by recent flooding. It is usually seen in low spots on the road and can be particularly slippery, especially in the middle of a turn. Be even more vigilant to look for dark areas that may indicate remaining damp areas — especially in the shadows. These dark spots can be as slippery as grease and could put a rider down instantly if the bike is leaned or if brakes or throttle are applied while riding through it. If you can’t avoid it, coast through with no throttle or brake adjustments while staying as upright as possible.

Notice unusual collections of gravel, dirt and debris at the road’s edge. That’s a sign that water has crested above the road level recently. And a good indicator there may be large areas of debris up ahead.

While you’re at it, scan side roads and gravel driveways for ruts and washouts that may suggest debris has washed out onto the road surface up ahead.

We’ve all heard talk about the calm before the storm. But for the rider, it’s the calm after the storm that we need to be extra mindful of.