Not many Americans have seen a tornado, despite what movies such as The Wizard of Oz and Twister may indicate. With video footage widely available, it may seem that we have driven right past one, but most likely you have not.
Tornado Season and Severity
The spring season is when tornadoes are most rampant, especially through the nation’s mid-section, Midwest, and southeast. The northeast sees tornado activity later in the year as does the desert southwest and the northern plains. All 48 contiguous states have recorded tornadoes. Even Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico have experienced twisters, although the worst activity is generally felt in “Tornado Alley.”
What if you are out io the storm and a twister is nearby? Although modern warning systems are quite good, a twister may occur outside of the forecast area and at a time least expected. You may think you have ample time to retrieve your children from school, head to work, or pick up groceries. Quite suddenly, you may discover that you were terribly wrong.
A car does not offer the protection against a tornado that some may think. Yes, it is an ideal place to seek shelter from lightning, but if you are in a path of a cyclone, winds can easily flip your vehicle or send it skyward before crashing to the ground. In this case, heading to a nearby shelter such as a meat locker, a dedicated storm shelter, or a fortified interior room.
Some communities have public shelters as do businesses. Knowing where these are in advance is wise. You can search the Red Cross website for a list of safe spaces in your area.
There are two types of twister alerts sent by meteorologists for your area: a tornado watch and a tornado warning. A watch means that the conditions are ripe for a tornado and it is the first level of warning issued. A warning means a tornado has been seen. In some cases, rotation is spotted by Doppler Radar and that means a tornado may be forming. In this case, a warning is issued even though a cyclone may not touch down.
If a tornado warning is issued and you are too far to drive home, then seek shelter in a restaurant, truck stop, or a convenience store. In food establishments, a refrigerator is one of the safest places to wait out a storm.
On the other hand, if a tornado is nearby (visible) then you may have no time to leave your vehicle. In this case, it is best to stay in the car with your seatbelt buckled. Duck down and attempt to protect your face from flying debris, including glass. If you can exit the vehicle, find a place lower than the road, such as a ditch. Lay face down in the ditch, keeping your face and head protected against flying debris.
Avoid These Places
Not every place offers the shelter from a twister you may think is ideal. For instance, disappearing under the car could prove deadly if something falls on top of the vehicle. Also, do not hide in an underpass as the winds are even more violent there. You could be sucked out.
If possible, stay tuned in to local weather reports. Warnings are frequently updated and broadcast to the covered area and beyond.
Once a twister passes, do not let down your guard. The birds may be singing and the sun soon shining, but hazards remain. These include downed power lines, sharp debris, and broken gas lines. Roads may be closed, and some neighborhoods cordoned as first responders seek survivors.
Mulcahy, C. (2022, March 9). Tornado safety: What you should do during a tornado warning. Wcnc.Com. https://www.wcnc.com/article/weather/weather-iq/weather-iq-no-matter-where-you-are-what-to-do-during-a-tornado-warning/275-3881ba16-6975-4c8d-b1be-59c70943f6ab
Donelson, J. (2017, May 15). Tornado safety while driving. Life Lanes. https://www.progressive.com/lifelanes/on-the-road/tornado-safety-driving/
See Also — Common Car Safety Mistakes