What to Do If You See a Tornado While Driving

Driving down the road and seeing a tornado may sound like a complete nightmare, but if it happens in reality, it’s important to know what to do. You might think that hiding under an overpass or staying in your car are good ideas, but they are not. Here is what to do if you come across a tornado while driving.

If you are far enough away from the tornado, drive away

View of the 'rope' or decay stage of a tornado.
View of the ‘rope’ or decay stage of a tornado. | NOAA Photo Library/Getty Images

If you’re driving and see a tornado form from a distance, your first line of defense is to drive away. According to The Weather Channel, “NOAA recommends changing course and driving toward a sturdy shelter as soon as possible. They recommend truck stops, convenience stores, restaurants, and even walk-in coolers.”

If the tornado is far enough, you may be able to stop the car and let it pass. A good rule of thumb is to drive at a right angle if you can determine the tornado’s path. So, if it’s traveling east, then head south.

Cars can be death traps in the middle of a tornado

If the tornado is an immediate threat and there’s nowhere for you to go, it’s time to leave the car to duck and cover. Since cars can be death traps in the middle of a tornado, it’s important to get away from your car as soon as possible. However, if you are stuck in your car, buckle your seatbelt and ensure that your head is covered and below the windshield and glass.

If you have a blanket handy, it’s a good idea to use it to cover your head. If there is no shelter, find a low point on the ground like a ditch or ravine, crouch or lay down, and cover your head.

Never seek shelter under an overpass

Broken trees fallen on cars after a tornado.
Broken trees fallen on cars after a tornado. | SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP via Getty Images

If an overpass is nearby, you may be tempted to seek shelter under it. However, the speed of the winds increases in these openings, and you could end up in greater danger if you happen to be under them. Furthermore, you will be a stationary target for flying debris by seeking shelter under an overpass, which could impale you at high speeds.

After the tornado passes, use caution

Debris of a destroyed home and a car after a tornado.
Debris of a destroyed home and a car after a tornado. | CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images

After the tornado subsides or passes, it’s important to use caution when walking around. Keep an eye out for fallen power lines, broken gas lines, and other fallen debris. It’s also a good idea to pay attention to weather reports in the area. You can either download the tornado warning app from the American Red Cross or text “GetNado” to 90999.

Of course, the best way to prevent having to drive near a tornado is to avoid it altogether. In that case, if you’re in a tornado-prone area, remember to pay attention to the weather reports and your surroundings. Tornados can form very quickly, so it’s a good idea to be alert and drive away from them when possible. It might be a nightmare to be in the vicinity of a tornado while driving, but the proper procedures can keep you safe and alive.

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