What to Do if You’re Driving and There’s a Tornado Warning

If you’re from St. Louis, you understand the risks of living in Tornado Alley. Missouri experiences an astonishing 32 tornadoes annually, resulting in an average of four fatalities and numerous injuries. The NOAA reported four tornado deaths in vehicles as of January 2023.

One of the worst places you can find yourself during a tornado is inside a vehicle. The intense winds easily toss cars and trucks. If you find yourself driving during a tornado warning, your priority should be to seek shelter as soon as possible.

Learn what to do if trapped in your vehicle during a tornado.

1. Don’t Panic: Get Out of the Tornado’s Path if You Can

The most important thing to remember during a tornado is to stay calm and take quick but safe action to protect yourself. If you are in a vehicle when a tornado warning is issued, do not panic.

Instead, try to escape the tornado’s path as quickly as possible. If you spot a funnel cloud in the distance, consider whether you can safely move out of its trajectory. If the road is clear, drive perpendicular to the tornado’s direction. For example, go south if the tornado is heading east.

If you are on a highway, exit immediately and seek shelter in a nearby building or low-lying area. Or try to find a nearby restaurant, grocery store, or truck stop. Head to the lowest point in the building, like the basement. If the building has no basement, find a room without any windows, like a pantry or walk-in cooler, and remain there until the storm passes.

2. Avoid Tunnels and Overpasses

While you may be tempted to seek shelter under the nearest underpass or tunnel, these structures can increase the risk of injury. Wind speeds can reach up to 318 MPH for a category F5 tornado. Tunnels and underpasses can increase wind speed, leaving you vulnerable to injury.

The confined space of a tunnel can create a wind tunnel effect, amplifying the tornado’s winds and causing debris to swirl around at high speeds. This makes it very dangerous for anyone seeking refuge inside.

Overpasses have no structural support beneath them, making them vulnerable to collapse during a tornado’s strong winds. Additionally, the winds under an overpass can increase in velocity due to the Venturi effect, putting anyone underneath it at risk.

Instead, find a low-lying area, ditch, or shelter away from trees and other objects that could become projectiles.

3. Pull Over and Stop the Car: Don’t Try to Outrun the Tornado

Do not try to outrun the storm if you are driving when a tornado warning is issued. Even though some tornadoes travel at slower speeds, like 1o to 20 mph, others may travel as fast as 60 mph and move in a zig-zag pattern, making it difficult to judge how fast the twister is moving.

Instead, pull over and stop your car in a safe location as quickly as possible. Turn off the engine, close the windows, and hunker down below them. Avoid parking under trees, power lines, or other objects that could fall onto your vehicle.

4. Keep Your Seat Belt Fastened

If you are driving during a tornado warning, keep your seat belt fastened. Tornadoes can cause strong winds and sudden movements that can throw you around inside the vehicle or even eject you from it.

Keeping your seatbelt on increases your chances of staying inside the car and avoiding serious injuries. Seatbelts are typically made of 100% webbed polyester, with the tensile strength to withstand 3,000 to 6,000 pounds.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requires seat belt assembly to have a breaking strength of up to 9,000 pounds, which can provide protection if your vehicle is in strong winds during a tornado.

5. Lower Your Head and Cover it With a Blanket

If driving during a tornado, lower your head to avoid flying debris. Tornadoes can pick up and toss around objects at incredible speeds; if they hit your car, they can cause serious harm.

Flying debris is the number one cause of injury and death in a tornado. Lowering your head reduces the risk of getting hit by flying debris and increases your chances of avoiding injuries.

In addition to lowering your head, cover it with your hands, a blanket, or another object if possible. This can provide additional protection from flying debris by minimizing direct impact with your face, neck, or head.

Contact a Lawyer If You are Injured or Your Vehicle Has Been Damaged

If you suffer injuries or damage to your vehicle during a tornado, the car accident attorneys at Cofman Townsley can help you recover damages. Whether you need to file for comprehensive coverage with your auto insurance company or a negligent driver caused a crash during a storm, we can help you file your claim and receive compensation for your injuries.

We understand the devastating impact that natural disasters like tornadoes can have on individuals and communities. Our experienced attorneys will review your damages and help you seek a settlement so you can focus on recovery from the incident.

Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and find out how we can assist you in recovering from the damage caused by a tornado.