Janna Kelley OSU Extension Educator
All Oklahomans know the importance of going to the storm shelter when the tornado sirens sound. But what should a person do when caught in a storm while out on the road?
Each situation is different. Vehicles of any type, including cars, trucks, SUVs and 18-wheelers, are not safe to be in in the event of a tornado. All vehicles can be blown over, picked up and tossed through the air, crushed and destroyed by even a weak tornado. People have been hurt and even killed when big trees have fallen on their car. You can avoid these unsafe situations by being alert and aware of the possibility of severe storms and tornadoes.
If you are faced with a tornado while on the road, what you need to do will depend on your location, the location of the tornado, road options available to you, nearby structures, traffic and current weather conditions.
It’s important to find a radio station broadcasting up-to-the-minute weather information. It’s also vital to know exactly where you are. Radio announcers will be using town and county names as they provide information regarding the location of a tornado. Keep in mind you won’t receive any updates if you’re listening to CDs or satellite radio. Keep a map handy so you can pinpoint your location. If you don’t know exactly where you are, you could miss important life-saving information.
Smartphones can come in very handy in a weather emergency. However, if you are driving alone, pull over occasionally so you can safely check the weather. Some smartphone apps use the GPS chip in the phone to pull up the latest radar imagery for your specific location.
If the tornado is far enough away, and road options and traffic allow, you should try to find a substantial building for shelter. Once there, follow basic tornado safety guidelines of get in, get down, cover up. Businesses located alongside the road on which you are traveling, such as convenience stores and truck stops can be good sources of shelter.
It’s important to keep in mind you should never try to outrun a tornado when you’re in your vehicle. You may be able to avoid a serious situation by driving out of its path, or simply stopping and letting it pass. The worst case scenario is to be caught in your vehicle with no possible escape. This situation is more likely to happen in metropolitan areas during rush hour or on limited access roadways such as the interstate where it’s not possible to exit quickly and find shelter.
Abandoning your vehicle to seek shelter in a ditch should be your absolute last resort. You expose yourself to flying debris, flooding rains and hail, lightning and extreme wind. However, if you have no other option but to leave your vehicle and seek shelter in a ditch, try to get as far away from the vehicle, as well as any other potential flying objects, as possible.
Do not seek shelter under an overpass, despite what you may have seen on television. As the winds from the tornado channel under the overpass, they actually speed up, increasing your chances of getting blown out from under the overpass. You also are exposed to flying debris.
We’re just gearing up for tornado season in Oklahoma and knowing what safety precautions to take while on the road is vital for your safety.