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Current Open-Country Safety Guidelines

These are the current vehicle/open country safety guidelines for tornadoes as defined in “Tornadoes: Nature’s Most Violent Storms – A Preparedness Guide,” composed and distributed by the National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross.

  1. Get out of automobiles.
  2. Do not try to outrun a tornado in your car; instead, leave it immediately.
  3. If caught outside or in a vehicle, lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression.

Therefore, is there a need to revisit the current tornado safety guidelines for people in vehicles or open country? We contend that there is. First, these guidelines were developed many, many years ago when the flow of information from the warning desk, through the media, to the public was much slower and poorer. Second, these safety guidelines say nothing about staying in one's car and driving at right angles to the tornado's path, simply to get out of the way, a policy that used to be part of our recommended safety precautions. It should be noted that all of the people who stopped at the Shields Boulevard overpass would have been completely out of harm's way had they simply stayed in their vehicles and driven as little as a half mile to the south! We also note that nowhere in the current safety guidelines is there any reference to seeking shelter under a highway overpass.

We are not saying that a vehicle is a safe place in which to ride out a tornado - it definitely is not. What we *are* saying is that by remaining calm and assessing the situation, it should be possible to determine the tornado's direction of movement, thus making it possible simply to drive out of the way, assuming it's not right on top of you when you first see it. In other words, we believe that the current safety guideline of immediately abandoning vehicles at the first sight of a tornado can be improved upon. The old rule about driving at right angles to the tornado's path is still good advice, if the road circumstances permit. On unobstructed highways, it is even possible to outrun a tornado until you reach a point where you *can* drive at right angles to the path and get out of harm's way quickly and easily. Obviously, if you encounter a weather event during a thunderstorm in which you can't identify what is happening (some tornadoes are hard to recognize), you should not attempt to drive into or through it!

With this being said, it may be dangerous even to try to drive out of the way of a tornado in an urbanized area where traffic is much heavier and could result in traffic jams preventing an escape. Lack of knowledge of the local roads besides the interstate highways may also severely hamper one's attempt to drive out of the way in an urban area. In such a case, one should seek shelter in a nearby building.

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