HOW TO DRIVE IN TORNADOES AND MICROBURSTS
What to do if you encounter extreme winds on the road
Tornadoes and microbursts generally develop in the spring and summer—but can surprise you at other times, too, so it’s a good idea to always be prepared. Like many tornadoes, microbursts develop within a thunderstorm. Unlike tornadoes, microburst winds travel downward and do not rotate, and can sometimes cause even more damage. They exhibit few warning signs, except for dark, sometimes green-ish skies, so pay attention to thunderstorm warnings issued by the National Weather Service.
Know your local weather broadcast channel (pre-program it to your radio now), and always listen to the forecast before you head out on the road. Try to avoid driving if extreme weather is expected, especially if there is a tornado watch or microburst advisory.
If driving is unavoidable, here’s what to do should you encounter an extreme wind event on the road.
NEVER TRY TO OUTRUN A TORNADO
Tornadoes are extremely wide, fast and unpredictable. So never try to outrun a tornado in the same direction it is moving. Distance yourself by driving in a 90-degree angle away from the direction of its forecasted movement. But be ready to adjust your path if necessary because tornadoes can change direction at any time.
SEEK THE RIGHT KIND OF SHELTER
If you find yourself in a microburst or in the path of a tornado, get into the lower point of the nearest building—ideally one that is constructed out of brick.
PLACES TO AVOID
Do not take shelter under your vehicle—tornado winds can roll your vehicle over. And while seeking shelter beneath an overpass might seem like a good idea, winds actually can accelerate there, causing the potential for collapse.
IF YOU CANNOT REACH SHELTER: TWO OPTIONS
If a tornado or microburst is bearing down on your vehicle, you could do one of two things. One: stop the car, and slouch low into your seat with your seatbelt on. Cover yourself with a blanket or coat to avoid shattered glass.
Or two, if you can safely do so, get out of the car and lie in a ditch or any spot that’s noticeably lower than the road. Lie as close to the ground as possible and cover your head with your hands.
SEE CLEARLY: TURN ON YOUR LIGHTS & DEFROSTER
Dark skies come with tornadoes and microbursts, so turn on your headlights—but not your high beams, which can light up the raindrops and be a dangerous distraction. And switch on your defroster to reduce fog. Use the fresh air setting to avoid recirculating the humid air in your car.
STEER CLEAR OF DOWNED POWER LINES
Both tornadoes and microbursts can blow down power lines, so in the aftermath of either of these, be alert and stay far away from downed wires. They could still be live, and the ground around power lines can be electrified up to 35 feet. Do not drive over a power line, because even if it is not energized, it could entangle your vehicle.
If your car comes in contact with a downed power line, stay inside, because the road around you might be energized. Be very careful not to touch any interior metallic areas inside your vehicle. Call 911, but make sure others stay away from your car.
If you must leave your car due to a fire caused by the power line:
- Remove loose items of clothing
- Jump out of the vehicle with both feet—but avoid touching the car and the ground at the same time, so you do not provide a path for electricity from the car to the ground through your body. It’s a myth that rubber tires are great insulators.
- Shuffle away from the vehicle—and the downed power line—without picking up your feet.
GET PREPPED FOR SEVERE WEATHER
In the end, your best bet is being prepared. Keep on top of the weather report from your local weather broadcast channel, and stay off the road and in a safe shelter if the weather calls for it. Microbursts and tornadoes are serious wind events that should be handled with great caution and care.