You won't find many things believable in the new Superman movie, Man of Steel. But one part of the film is dangerously inaccurate, according to John Trostel, director of the Georgia Tech Research Institute's Severe Storms Research Center. When a tornado appears in one scene, motorists are told to run from their cars and hide underneath a highway overpass.
According to the National Weather Service, this is one of the worst things you can do. The NWS website mentions that, by climbing under the overpass, you are exposing yourself to higher winds, as the winds both increase with height and the overpass acts like a wind tunnel by constricting the winds. Numerous people have died as a result of “sheltering” under an overpass.
Conversely, the overwhelming consensus of opinion among tornado researchers remains that cars are one of the worst places possible to be during a tornado. Of particular concern are people who decide to flee the tornado in their cars. In a large metropolitan area, especially during rush hour, this action exposes many people to grave danger. This danger was demonstrated in the November 1989 Huntsville tornado, which struck during rush hour. Twelve of the 21 deaths from this tornado occurred in cars. Earlier this summer, at least seven of the nine people killed by the tornado in El Reno, Oklahoma, were in their vehicles.
The Storm Prediction Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), publishes online tornado safety facts, which reiterate the danger of being in a car during a tornado.
There are very few cases where "staying in your car may be safest." People who live in mobile homes should have a backup plan in place during watch periods. If the mobile home facility does not have a sturdy, well-constructed building available for shelter, the best use of a car may be to move yourself to a safer place, as long as driving there is possible well before the storm hits. Most other homes are much safer places to be than cars. Many people survived the Moore tornado in their homes despite the lack of basements or storm shelters. Following the adage “Get in, Get Down and Cover Up” resulted in many people climbing out of their destroyed homes.
Tornadoes in Georgia tend to be rain-wrapped, often occur at night and are difficult to see. They are hard to outrun in a car because of the difficulties in determining where, exactly, the tornado is and which way the storm is moving. Knowing that a tornado "is only an EF0 or EF1" is not possible before the National Weather Service has done a post-storm survey. Estimating the intensity of the storm from radar data is very inexact. All tornadoes should be considered dangerous and life threatening.
Trostel says the best advice for storm and tornado safety is to be aware.
Pay attention to weather watches. A watch means that there is the possibility that severe weather may occur. Keep an eye on the sky, listen to the news, have a weather radio, and sign up for weather alerts.
Have a plan, ahead of time, of what you will do and where you will go.
If a warning is issued, it means that a severe storm or tornado has been sighted or has been indicated by radar.
- GET IN - If you are outside, get inside. If you are already inside, get as far into the middle of the building as possible.
- GET DOWN - Go to the lowest floor possible. If there is a basement or cellar available, get underground.
- COVER UP - Use pillows, blankets, coats, helmets, etc to cover up and protect your head and body from flying debris, the number one killer in tornadoes.
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