Weather Center

Shelter in the Storm

By James Mayfield 3.25.15

Texas tornadoes strike on a moment’s notice, and knowing what to do while on the road may mean the difference between life and serious injury — even death. In the event of a weather emergency, drivers tend to flock to the nearest freeway overpass, hoping to take cover until the storm blows through. But that approach can actually do more harm than good.

Seeking shelter under an overpass puts you at greater risk of being killed or seriously injured by flying debris from those powerful tornadic winds, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a science-based federal agency.

With wind speeds that sometimes top 200 mph, tornadoes can send missile-like airborne debris careening under the narrow passage of an overpass. Dirt, sand, and rocks moving at tremendous speeds can penetrate clothing and skin, while very fine debris can cause vision loss.

So what do you do? Your best bet is to get out of the tornado’s path — don’t try to outrun it — or seek safety in a sturdy, well-constructed building, preferably one with an underground shelter, basement, or safe room. At the very least, look for a small, windowless interior room or hallway on the lowest level.

If it’s too late and you’re already surrounded by flying debris, pull over and park. Stay in your car with the seat belt on and put your head down below the windows, covering your head with your hands (and a blanket or jacket, if possible). If you find yourself out in the open, lay flat in a ditch, ravine, or a below-grade culvert for protection.

More storm safety articles you may be interested in:

Storm season shelf life

Protect your home with storm windows

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