Driving while a tornado is on the ground is obviously not a predicament you want to find yourself in.
When it comes to driving and tornadoes, a lot of dangerous misconceptions exist, so it’s important to know what you should and shouldn’t do if you are driving when a tornado is on the ground.
Do not try to outrun the tornado. It may be tempting, however, this is not a wise choice. A tornado’s path is unpredictable and it can switch directions at random. You could be driving away from a tornado when it suddenly charges down your path.
"Never try to outrun a tornado. If however, the tornado, you can clearly see that it's going in a different direction, you should try to get away from it at the right and correct angles to ensure that it's not catching up with you," said Leslie Chapman-Henderson, President and CEO of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, also known as the nonprofit FLASH.
Do not seek shelter under your car. The tornado may drop objects on your car, which could end up crushing you, or it could blow your car off you, removing your shelter.
Do not seek shelter under a bridge or tunnel. Because tunnels lack four walls and bridges have no walls, these structures do not protect you from a tornado’s winds. Instead, tunnels may act as a channel that increases a tornado’s wind, making it a more dangerous place to be.
"One of the common misconceptions, unfortunately, that is very dangerous, is when people try to park under a bridge or under some type of overpass, never do that. And the reason is because that is actually a place where the wind speeds will increase and that will heighten the danger," said Henderson.
Pull your car onto the side of the road and seek shelter. If there are sturdy buildings around, enter one and go to its lowest level without windows. If no such shelter is available, find the lowest point on the ground and lie down, covering your head with your hands. NOAA recommends getting as far away from your car as possible in that situation. Try to avoid places with trees or other objects that might get picked up by the tornado.
"We always tell people to have a disaster supply kit around their home. We want you to have one in your car as well. And in that supply kit, you should always have a blanket, flashlight, road flashers in case, say, for example, your car can't be easily removed from the road or safely removed from the road. You want to set off those flashers so you don't have a compounding situation with a traffic accident," stated Henderson.
NOAA says if the traffic allows, and the tornado is distant, you probably have time to drive out of its path. They suggest watching the tornado closely for a few seconds compared to a fixed object in the foreground (such as a tree, pole, or another landmark).
They state if it appears to be moving to your right or left, it is not moving toward you. Still, you should escape at right angles to its track: to your right if it is moving to your left, and vice versa--just to put more distance between you and its path.
If the tornado appears to stay in the same place, growing larger or getting closer--but not moving either right or left--it is headed right at you.
If you are caught by extreme winds or flying debris, park the car as quickly and safely as possible -- out of the traffic lanes. Stay in the car with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows; cover your head with your hands and a blanket, coat, or other cushions if possible.
"Be certain you have on a seatbelt and everyone else in the vehicle has on a seatbelt as well. A second thing is to have some type of blanket or protection from potential broken glass because, of course, your car windshield and the windows could become breached by the flying debris," said Henderson.
The best tactic is to avoid driving in these conditions, but if you find that an unfeasible option, please drive safe and follow as many safety precautions as possible.
"A car is just not the place to be [during a tornado]. So you should avoid it at all costs. And with the advent of weather information today in alerting, all it really takes is heightened awareness, especially if you live, like so many of us do, in a place that has a lot of tornadoes," said Henderson.