Monday, June 20, 2005

Tornadoes: Run or Hide?

Big news in the world of tornado survival instructions. A study in last week's American Journal of Epidemiology found that people who decided to flee from the massive May 3, 1999 tornado that devastated the Oklahoma City area had better survival odds than those who stayed put.

Traditionally, you were never supposed to try and outrun a tornado in a car. Twisters don't have to follow roads and a car is no match for a tornado if you make the wrong turn. Mobile homes are well-established as easy prey for tornadoes, but for some people in the path of the F5 storm that hit Oklahoma, anything short of being below ground wasn't enough to ensure survival. Fortunately, F5's are rare beasts in the tornado spectrum.

It definitely makes sense in any case to get out if you're in a mobile home, but you'd probably still be better off in a closet or bathroom than in a car unless you're dealing with an especially destructive tornado. Real-time forecasting of how damaging a tornado will be from moment to moment is a young science, and it's hard to imagine an orderly "tornado evacuation" without more warning time.

I'd feel really stupid getting in a car wreck while trying to flee a tornado that doesn't even rustle the leaves on my porch. Especially if I'm not wearing pants.


Anonymous said...

Ever since I was a wee child, I have had recurring nightmares about trying to outrun a tornado in my car, on a major highway. So I think it may be my destiny.

Terri R.

J. Swanson said...

Once many years ago while traveling by car north of Wichita Falls on the way to Oklahoma I saw three tornadoes at the same time. One off to the right was on the ground and picking up what I believe must have been farm structures and equipment, one dead ahead of us was dropping out of the clouds but not yet quite on the ground, and one to the left us that had just begun to form and just hanging down. My dad was driving and my older brother, who was probably 9 or 10 at the time, and I were in the back seat. I thought it was pretty neat until my brother began to cry...then I began to cry. Luckily my father's cool-headedness prevailed and we made it passed without harm. It was a sight I will not forget.