GAYLORD, Mich. – A Michigan couple found themselves square in the path of a deadly tornado while out for a drive Friday in Gaylord, but managed to escape injury thanks to some quick thinking by the driver.
Dawn Grubaugh was recording out the passenger window as the tornado first appeared on the horizon, but quickly raced toward their position.
‘Oh, it’s going to come and hit us," she can be heard saying on the video. "It’s coming right now … Oh, God! It’s hitting us!"
Her husband managed to pull into a car wash bay in a shopping complex just as the tornado swept across the parking lot, eventually causing significant damage to several large buildings, including a Hobby Lobby, Goodwill and Little Caesar’s.
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The couple managed to escape unscathed, though their video from the immediate aftermath showed their truck had suffered several dings from blown debris.
Two people died in the tornado when it struck a nearby mobile home park, according to officials, and at least 44 others were injured.
The National Weather Service gave the tornado an EF-3 rating on the Enhanced Fujita Scale with an estimated peak wind speed of 150 mph. It was the first tornado on record to strike Gaylord, and the first damaging severe weather event in the town since 1998.
What to do if stuck in your car as a tornado approaches
Spotting a tornado bearing down on you while on the road can be quite stressful and your first thought may be to outrun it, but that’s not your best option.
Never try to outrun a tornado," said Leslie Chapman-Henderson, President and CEO of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, also known as the nonprofit FLASH. "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."
The Grubaugh's didn’t have much time to react with the tornado bearing down on them in seconds. But if you do have time, your best bet is to pull over and seek shelter inside sturdy building and head to its lowest level and avoid windows.
If no shelter is around, find the lowest point on the ground and lie down with your hands over your head. NOAA recommends getting as far away from your car as possible in that situation, lest it become a projectile. The parking lot of the shopping complex was littered with smashed cars – some had been flipped upside down.
A common misconception is to head for an underpass or tunnel, but those places are actually more dangerous, funneling winds to even more extreme speeds.
Finally, if like the Grubaughs you are caught by extreme winds and/or flying debris, park the car as quickly and safely as possible out of traffic lanes and stay in the car with your 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.