At least 23 reported tornadoes ripped through the Midwest on the last day in February this year, killing four people. Homes were destroyed, massive trees uprooted, and cars tossed around like toys. Tornadoes are rare in the Midwest in February, but they do happen. In fact, although tornadoes are most common from early spring through summer, they can occur any time of year. Before you head out on your next road trip, prepare for tornado safety.
Tornado safety tips
According to the National Weather Service, if a tornado develops while you’re driving:
- The best course of action is to drive to the closest shelter. If you are unable to make it to a safe shelter, either get down in your car and cover your head, or abandon your car and seek shelter in a low lying area such as a ditch or ravine.
- DO NOT seek safety under a highway overpass. Winds blow stronger under the overpass due to the wind-tunnel effect. Additionally, flying debris (glass, wood, metal) can pummel you, and the tornado winds may suck you out from under the overpass anyway.
- Remember – the tornado can occur before there is a visible funnel cloud. A tornado is nothing more than a violently rotating column of air extending from the ground to the cloud base. You may not be able to see the tornado (can’t see the rotating air) until enough debris and dirt get swept into the vortex, and/or the visible funnel cloud develops all the way to the ground.
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- Before leaving on any road trip, check the weather forecast. If threatening weather is forecast in your driving path, postpone your trip or take an alternate route.
- Carry a hand-held weather alert radio that receives National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) emergency alerts. NOAA National Weather Service broadcasts official Weather Service warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information 24 x 7.
If you aren’t traveling, or driving within a short distance, consider a weather radio with SAME (Specific Area Message Encoding) technology. You program a SAME weather radio to a specific area frequency by adding a SAME code following direction’s in your radio’s manual. You’ll find a list of SAME codes for all U.S. states and counties on the NOAA website.
You can turn off the SAME technology if you are traveling long distances.
- When your weather radio alerts you to a tornado warning in your travel area, seek nearby shelter immediately.
- Be sure to carry extra batteries with you
Tornado watch vs. tornado warning
- A tornado watch means tornadoes are possible in and near the watch area. A watch typically covers a large area of several counties or states.
- A tornado warning means a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Move to shelter immediately. A warning typically covers a smaller area, usually the size of a city or small county.
Keep aware of impending hazardous weather and take property tornado safety measures to ensure your road trip doesn’t become a tragedy. Safe travels!
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