Where to go when you see a tornado - WDAM - TV 7 - News, Weather and Sports

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Where to go when you see a tornado

Let's say a tornado warning is issued for the area in which you live. 

Most of us know where to go to protect ourselves: To an inner room, such as a closet or bathroom. The idea is to put as many walls between yourself and the tornado as possible.

If you have a basement, go there. Underneath a stairwell in the center of your home or basement is a good place of safety.

Of course, a tornado doesn't always hit when you're at home.

So what do you do if a warning is issued when you're in your car or at a shopping center, in a high-rise building or an apartment complex?

John De Block of the National Weather Service has the answers.

"All severe weather scenarios, the key is to be aware and to be prepared. If you know what's coming, you're expecting severe weather, you are going to know wherever you are, whether it's at home, school or at church, out shopping --you're going to have a plan and be ready to activate that plan and go to your safe place," he says. "Generally speaking, the farther you are to the center of the building, away from those outside walls, lots of interior walls, no window...that's the best place to be."

De Block says it's best to avoid department stores with large span roofs when a tornado is imminent

"In any of those large retail buildings, there is really not a safest place to be," he explains. "You've got hazards from the roof collapsing to the walls collapsing. So if you're near the walls, those concrete blocks could collapse, or those tip-up panels could collapse. If there happens to be some sort of a solid interior structure towards the middle of the store, that would be the best place to be. But, when you know severe weather's coming, don't find yourself in that large retail building when the warning comes out."

If you find yourself in a high-rise building, apartment complex or hospital, the safest places are the lowest floors, in an interior room, or a central stairwell.

Avoid elevators – if the building loses power, you could be stuck.

And what if you're driving near a tornado?

"If you see a tornado coming in your car, get out of that car and get to the ditch," says De Block. "I don't like the idea of being in a dry ditch with spiders and snakes and everything, but we can become friends for a few minutes as that tornado passes overhead!"  

Some people may think that a bridge or an overpass provides protection, but De Block explains that that could be very dangerous.

"If you're under an overpass, that wind has to accelerate to get through there, so  any debris that's in there is going to be blowing faster and harder when it hits you," he says. "It also creates a public safety hazard. If everybody were to park in that vicinity of that underpass, clogging up traffic, emergency vehicles couldn't get through. So it's not just about you -- it's about making the path clear for safety vehicles."

If you live in a mobile home, many mobile home parks may have a designated tornado shelter or a steel-reinforced, concrete laundry room. Go there or to a more substantial structure such as a friend's house or local business.

Avoid trying to ride out the storm in your mobile home.

De Block says the best way to protect yourself and your family from a tornado is to have several ways to become informed.

"Have that weather radio, that text message, that email, the phone call. Look out for each other. If you see storms going into a town where you know your friends and family are, give them a call on the phone.  Make sure they know it's coming.  Don't wonder if they know that it's coming," he says. "Make sure they know that it's coming."

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