Last night, Minnesota saw some yellow-green skies and golfball-sized hail. Spring has in fact sprung.
This brings up the important safety question of what to do when the sky lets loose and you’re on your bicycle. Generally speaking, if you know there’s tornado warnings, you shouldn’t be wandering on out to go for a nice ride. That’s somewhere between ‘kinda dumb’ and ‘evolution failed,’ depending on the warning and the notice you have, and the sort of ride you’re about to execute.
However, there are days where rain is predicted for ‘after 3.’ You leave at 10 AM, knowing you have plenty of time for some good miles and a stop for a double-scoop waffle cone. You blow a tire, and have to spend a bunch of time stabilizing it with duct tape and a dollar, then you cut your scoop short to a single. And the storm, it seems, is showing up at 2, not 3. In these situations, you need to have a duck-and-cover protocol.
As the sky starts turning green, consider your strategy. Do you know the area? If you’re in the country, is there a town or a gas station nearby? Even if it’s not necessarily in the proper path of your eventual destination, start heading towards the nearest source of shelter. If the sky is putting lime in its coconut, it’s not the time to be concerned about progress to endpoint.
In general, once the sky opens up and is pounding, let alone emitting hail, you should get off the road. There will be some cars who continue in the weather; depending on volume of downpour/hail and visibility, they are dumb. As far as you, on a bicycle, are concerned, the visibility factor is giant. You won’t be able to see or be seen, which can end badly.
Look for some form of cover. In the city, bridges and overpasses can work pretty well. If you’re fortunate, you may be near a shop — or better yet, a cafe. Nearby homes with garages or car sheds may also be an option. In the country, you may have some bridge or overpass options, but often you end up needing to show more creativity. A culvert won’t keep you dry, but it’s a safer place to be (short of flash flooding). I spent one hailstorm in Wisconsin hanging out in a crop-duster shed. If you’re really fortunate, you’ll be near the rural center of action and be able to get in to the town bar. While you may feel weird showing up with your bike and little bike shorts, the locals will typically be welcoming and nice about the fact that you don’t want to be hailed on. Stay away from metal objects, like metal picnic tables, and possibly your bike if you have enough space to put some distance between you and it.
Don’t decide the storm is over too soon. If you have been unable to get into a building situation with wether radio or TV, this can be a challenge. In the situation with the crop duster shed, I was a mile from the rest stop for the event, and I knew there were cookies there (cookies!). I was already soaked. The wind had eased off and the rain was much more sensible. I figured I could make a break for it. About a quarter mile out, POW. Got hailed on. Not recommended. So don’t trust me to give you tips on telling when the storm blew, just try to figure it out and hope.
Be safe out there.