According to the Centers for Disease Control, the best place to be during a tornado is the interior portion of a basement, and the least desirable place to be during a tornado is in a motor vehicle. Therefore, taking shelter is your best bet.
What to do when driving in a tornado
Look out for severe weather alerts
Check weather reports and watch for severe weather warnings. If there’s a tornado risk, make a plan and avoid traveling in your car when there’s a tornado in the forecast.
Stay tuned for weather updates
If you must travel when a tornado might hit, tune to a local radio station or severe weather update service to get alerts about developing tornado activity. Some states, especially in tornado-prone areas — have severe weather information updates or alert systems you can check for updates.
Have a plan
When you’re worried about a tornado or live in a tornado-prone area, it helps to have an emergency plan. According to the NOAA Storm Prediction Center, that should include establishing a check-in protocol with loved ones and an agreed meeting point for once the tornado has passed. Consider identifying large, safe, sturdy buildings along your usual routes where you could take shelter if you’re in your car when the tornado hits.
Know the warning signs
NOAA advises that not all tornadoes are visible. Some have no funnel, while other tornadoes hide in heavy precipitation. In addition to the visible signs like strong rotation in the clouds or swirling dust on the ground, you must also engage your other senses. A low rumbling sound that lasts too long to be thunder is another tornado warning sign. Heavy rain followed by either perfect calm or a sudden, intense shift in the wind is another sign of a tornado.
What to do in a tornado in a car
If you’re in the car when a tornado develops or when you first notice the warning signs, you can take steps to be as safe as possible. Tornado safety tips to practice while driving include:
Get to shelter if you can
If the tornado is far away or still forming, get to the nearest sturdy building and get underground if possible.
Don’t try to outrun the tornado
Go to the nearest available shelter site, even if it’s a store or office building, rather than trying to race home. Drive at right angles to the tornado’s path to try and get out of its way.
Pull over and stop the car
Do this as quickly – and safely – as you can. Keep your seat belt on and get low in the car, covering yourself with a coat or blankets if possible. Blankets are a good addition for winter weather if you keep a severe weather kit in the car.
Try to make it to lower ground
NOAA advises leaving the car during a tornado if you can “safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway.” In this case, you should get to the low area, lie down, and cover your head with your hands.
Do not shelter below an overpass or a bridge
Despite popular belief, government officials like the Ohio Committee for Severe Weather Awareness advise that seeking shelter under structures like bridges and overpasses is a bad idea. These areas can expose you to higher wind speeds and more dangerous flying debris.
Other tips for driving during a tornado
While it can be tempting to race home or get your car to a safe spot, remember that safety is most important. Try to prioritize and stay calm. Objects — even expensive ones like your car — can be replaced. Try to keep your cool and follow your emergency plan. Stay away from heavily damaged buildings, including your house, when seeking shelter and after the storm passes because damaged buildings can be unstable.
Avoid downed power lines or areas littered with debris since they can contain hidden hazards like live electrical currents or broken glass.
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