Don’t try to outrun a tornado, weather and health specialists warn. If a twister threatens, find a safe spot to hide, away from windows and automobiles.
Spring is the peak time for tornadoes in the United States, but many of these storms occur in summer. In fact, they can strike at any time of year.
The federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta did a study of people killed in a 1979 tornado outbreak in Texas and Oklahoma, and found more than half were trying to flee the storm in their cars.
That twister, with wind speeds of more than 200 m.p.h., killed 43 people and left 59 seriously injured. Of those, 26 who died and 30 who were injured were trying to escape in automobiles, the CDC reported.
Several of them fled houses that were left undamaged, according to a Red Cross survey.
Shopping Center Shelter
People in a shopping center found shelter in restrooms, under counters and even in large refrigerator vaults. At home, many hid in hallways and closets or even covered themselves with mattresses. They survived, reported the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The proper action when tornadoes threaten is to seek shelter indoors, NOAA officials stress, leave the car or truck and, especially, leave mobile homes.
Folks at home facing a twister need to find the most secure spot. And forget the old wives tale about opening windows, add NOAA officials.
“The time spent in opening windows does little to save your home and should be devoted to seeking shelter because of the danger of flying glass,” reports Richard E. Hallgren, former National Weather Service director and now the head of the American Meteorological Society.
For many years people opened windows when tornadoes approached, on the theory that this would help protect the home by equalizing air pressure inside and outside the building.
But studies have found that, instead, it increases the danger of collapse by allowing the wind to blow through and put stress on walls from the inside, the Weather Service reports.
Tornadoes kill an average of 88 Americans every year. The toll has been down in recent years--59 in 1987 and a record low 15 deaths in 1986.
But while improved warnings and public attention have been credited with this reduction, a major outbreak still can occur suddenly and claim many lives.
If conditions are right for twisters, the National Severe Storms Forecast Center in Kansas City alerts local weather offices and issues a “tornado watch” for the affected area.
Then it’s up to local weather officials, who issue a “tornado warning” when the danger is considered imminent.
That is the time to act.
The Weather Service offers the following advice:
- At home: Stay away from windows, doors and outside walls. Go to the basement or to an interior part of the structure on the lowest level. Get under something sturdy to protect your head.
- Outdoors without shelter: Lie flat on low ground. Shield your head with your arms. Be alert for flooding of low areas.
- In a car or truck: Leave the vehicle and seek a place of shelter.
- In a mobile home: Leave immediately, but do not try to flee in a car. If no shelter is available, lie flat in low ground.
- In public buildings: Seek designated shelter areas.