Keys to surviving a tornado while driving: • Drive away from the tornado, if possible. • Try to find a sturdy building for shelter. • Lie in a ditch or ravine to avoid debris and cover your head. • Avoid taking shelter on bridges and under overpasses.
You are driving along an isolated highway in the face of an oncoming thunderstorm.
Light rain picks up into a heavy rain, and heavy rain turns to driving sheets of water followed by hail. The rain and hail come to a stop, but you notice that branches and rocks are now pelting your car rather than hail. The radio program you were listening to comes to an abrupt stop, and your speakers blare the tones of the emergency alert.
That storm you just drove into may actually be a tornado. Now what?
Your first option if you see the tornado and it is a relatively safe distance is to drive away. The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., suggests that you drive away from the storm at a right angle until the storm is safely moving away from you.
If the tornado is close to you or you can’t tell where the tornado is, it is time for the next option: leave your car. The last place that you want to be in a twister is inside your car. If the wind from a tornado is strong enough to relocate a house, it will certainly toss a car into the air and ultimately crush whoever is inside. The rule is that you want to get out of your car before you see large objects flying through the air.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. It isn’t the tornado that is the danger, it is what the wind picks up and hurls through the air that is dangerous. The strongest wind that you will encounter in a twister is above the surface of the Earth, which means that the safest place that you can be is below the constant stream of wind and debris. Once you understand that principle, then surviving a tornado when you are in your car becomes a matter of reducing the odds.
It is important to act quickly and decisively once driving away is no longer an option. Park the car as safely as possible on the side of the road and out of the way of oncoming traffic. Get out of your car and try to find a sturdy building for shelter. If there are none around, it is time to find a ditch or low-lying area that isn’t flooded and lay face-down covering your head and neck with your hands until the storm passes.
The theory in this logic is twofold. By finding a ditch or low area, you are getting your body below the line of strong or damaging wind and minimizing the chance of getting hit with debris. The other reason for finding a low spot is to minimize the chance that large objects, like your car, are going to fall or roll on top of you.
Bridges or overpasses should be avoided as shelter at all costs. These concrete structures are sturdy enough to withstand a tornado but provide minimal protection. In fact, the wind actually becomes stronger as the space under a bridge becomes tighter because the same amount of air still has to pass through that space. The debris will actually fly faster under the bridge, which increases the possibility of injury or death.
When in a tornado, you have to use common sense and act quickly and try not to get into a situation that puts your safety in jeopardy. Following these steps will give you the best chance of surviving one of Mother Nature’s most deadly phenomena.