What to Do When You Meet a Tornado on the Road
May 18, 2011
This time of year brings the lovely sights of flowers and sunshine; but as temperatures change, perfect conditions frequently arrive for tornadoes to form, especially in the Midwest and southern regions of the country. We all witnessed the devastating damage to areas of Alabama and Iowa recently, and though tornadoes can strike at a moment’s notice, it’s important to know what actions to take to remain unharmed.
Most people are familiar with indoor protocol when tornadoes arrive, but what if you’re in a car? Cars are one of the least desirable and most dangerous places to get caught in a twister, but here are some tips to help if the event does arise.
Take preemptive measures. Before embarking on a road trip that covers more than 50 miles or so, make sure to check weather reports to see if any dangerous weather is brewing. You can avoid a driving run-in with a tornado by keeping tabs on local weather forecasts.
If you forget, or don’t have access to a weather report, look for visual warning signs like dark skies, large, dark, low-lying clouds, large hail and loud rumbling (like a freight train is coming) – these are all signs that a tornado may be approaching, so find the nearest building while there’s still time to do so.
If you do have the opportunity and time to pull over and make it inside of a building or house, get to the lowest area, like an underground shelter, basement or safe room.
Decipher the direction of the twister. If you’re in the wide open outdoors with no buildings around, look in your rearview mirror and take note of what you see. If the tornado seems to be getting smaller, you are moving away from it, and it is safe to continue to driving. If it remains the same size or gets larger, it is coming in your direction. Pull over immediately.
It is commonly believed that you should drive away from a twister by making turns at right angles from the storm, but this isn’t always the best practice. Tornadoes don’t always travel in straight paths, and you never know if a road will weave or turn, which could send you right into the path of the twister.
Don’t stay in your car! Though it may seem natural to remain inside your vehicle to protect yourself from a tornado, it certainly is not. If you don’t have time to drive away from the twister, the best practice is to quickly get out of your car and seek the lowest area of ground you can find , like a ditch or gully. Then, cover your head and neck with an object or your arms. This method may seem like it puts you in the line of fire, but compared to the inside of your car or under a bridge, it’s truly is the safest procedure. Tornadoes have been known to uplift vehicles, and can also turn pebbles into bullets, with the potential to whiz through your car windows. Furthermore, other debris flying around your car could be deadly. Seeking shelter under a bridge or tunnel is also unwise, as these areas can create funnels and vortexes of wind. Additionally, crawling up under an overpass places you even higher up into the wind and at a higher risk of injury.
Hopefully very few people ever have to utilize tornado safety procedures while driving, but with so many people on the go these days, you can never be too sure. Every once and again we get reminders from Mother Nature that sometimes she is a force to be reckoned with. We may not be able to prevent these occurrences, but we can definitely try to prepare for them.