Are You Prepared for a Tornado?
Movies like “Twister,” which feature storm chasers, can make it seem fun and adventurous to be on the road during a tornado. The reality, however, is that it is incredibly dangerous. Educate yourself on the proper steps to take if a tornado appears while you are driving in order to help avoid being injured or killed.
Tornado season typically starts in late winter in the south and moves north through summer. Last year ranked as the fourth deadliest tornado season ever recorded in the U.S. with a total of 1,709 tornadoes. This year is on pace to match that record, with the majority of tornadoes expected to develop in April and May, according to the National Weather Service.
Detecting a tornado
Tornadoes can develop very quickly so there is often little to no advance warning. You can look for clues in the weather that conditions might be prime for a tornado. According to the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), the wind will die down and the air may become very still. The sky will darken and become a greenish color and there will be large, dark, low-lying clouds. It might also start hailing.
You should have a portable, battery-operated weather radio. You should also watch for weather reports from the National Weather Service and local news stations. A tornado watch means that tornadoes are possible and you should remain alert and watch for conditions to worsen, especially since you can travel through several counties in a short period of time. You should always be familiar with your routes, the county you are currently in and the counties you are heading to so you can prepare in advance and take shelter before you are caught in a severe storm. Tornado warnings mean that a tornado has been sighted or reported and you should take shelter immediately.
During a tornado
If you have advance warning that a tornado might be approaching, you should drive to the nearest building to take shelter. If possible, go to a basement or lower level of the structure. If the building doesn’t have a basement, go to the center of an interior room on the main level and stand as far away from the windows and doors as possible.
If you aren’t near a shelter or the tornado appears before you have a chance to get inside a building, pull over immediately. Never attempt to out-run a tornado. Tornadoes typically range from 0 to 70 mph, with some as high as 300 mph, and they don’t always travel in a straight path. Regardless of how heavy a truck is, a tornado can easily pick it up and throw it around.
If you can find a ditch or other location that is lower than the level of the road, exit your truck and lay flat in that location. If there are no ditches, the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA recommend you stay in your truck, buckle your seatbelt and lower your head below the windows. Wherever you seek shelter, cover your head with a blanket, coat or cushion if possible. Pointing tractor/trailers in the direction of the wind, not perpendicular to it, can help prevent them from being overturned or pushed by high winds approaching from the side.
It’s a common myth that drivers should park under an overpass during a tornado. According to FEMA, you are safer in a low, flat location because some overpasses can buckle under the high-pressured winds of a strong tornado. The corner point where the hill of the overpass meets the bottom of the overpass is a dangerous place to be as well. Even if the overpass does not collapse, the force of the winds in this area is magnified several times and can pull you out of what you think is a safe place.
After a tornado
Once a tornado has passed, you should first check for any injuries you may have sustained. If you are injured but able to move, try to find a phone and call for help. If you are not able to move, call attention to yourself by making noise and wait for help to arrive. Always carry a flashlight so you can use it to signal for help.
Be very careful when leaving a building or your truck after a tornado has passed. There will likely be a great deal of debris and building structures may not be safe. Check your truck for any fuel leaks or damage. Wait for emergency responders to clear the road as it may be unsafe to drive on or blocked by debris.
For additional tornado safety tips, visit www.ready.gov/tornadoes.