Gearing Up for Tornado Season 2012, Part 3: New Safety Rules

While the weather maps fortunately indicate little or no tornado activity in the U.S. the next two weeks, tornado season 2012 will be here soon. Did you know the NWS has revised the tornado safety rules?

Here are the new safety rules, from the American Red Cross and the National Weather Service:

The National Weather Service and the American Red Cross share a common goal of protecting lives through public education. Regarding tornado safety, we both agree that the best options are to go to an underground shelter, basement, or safe room. We have been giving this advice for decades, and it is recognized as the most effective way to stay safe in a tornado. 

The National Weather Service and Red Cross also agree on the critical importance of preparedness and quick action when conditions are right for tornadoes to develop like during a severe thunderstorm warning or tornado watch. When a tornado warning is issued, immediate action is required. Preparedness begins by identifying a safe location well in advance of any severe weather and having a way to get weather alerts wherever you are, such as from a NOAA weather radio. When a watch or warning is broadcast, people should already have a plan on what to do and where to go. They should take action immediately and never wait until they actually see a tornado. 

The National Weather Service and the Red Cross continue to agree that if no underground shelter or safe room is available, the safest alternative is a small windowless interior room or hallway on the lowest level of a sturdy building, such as an interior bathroom. We also recommend that residents of mobile homes go to the nearest sturdy building or shelter if a tornado threatens. 

The Red Cross and Weather Service believe that if you are caught outdoors, you should seek shelter in a basement, shelter or sturdy building. If you cannot quickly walk to a shelter: 
  • Immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter. 
  • If flying debris occurs while you are driving, pull over and park. Now you have the following options as a last resort: 

Stay in the car with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows, covering with your hands and a blanket if possible. 
If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, exit your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands. 

• Your choice should be driven by your specific circumstances. 

The important thing to understand is that if you find yourself outside or in a car with a tornado approaching and you are unable to get to a safe shelter, you are at risk from a number of things outside your control, such as the strength and path of the tornado and debris from your surroundings. This is the case whether you stay in your car or seek shelter in a depression or ditch, both of which are considered last resort options that provide little protection. The safest place to be is in an underground shelter, basement or safe room. 

The American Red Cross and the National Weather Service are working to ensure that our publications are updated to reflect this new tornado safety messaging. These changes were formulated using evidence-based research. The American Red Cross and the National Weather Service will continue to work together to assess new research findings and future improvements to our Nation’s tornado safety messaging. 

There is one item that I believe may need more research and that is whether it is better to have the ignition on or off. Based on some internet research I have some, in some cases some or all of the airbags will not deploy if the ignition is off. If I were in a car being moved by a tornado, I would want the airbags available. That said, does having the ignition on increase the chance of fire? 

Of course, it would be better not to be at that point of desperation at all. By correctly monitoring the weather during threatening conditions you should be able to get to a nearby shelter in time.

Which beings me to mobile homes. Tornado season 2011 conclusively demonstrated that mobile homes are no place to be during a tornado. The new “short form” tornado safety rules say,

Mobile homes are not safe during tornadoes. Abandon mobile homes and go to the nearest sturdy building or shelter immediately. 

I agree 100%. I suggest that readers who live in mobile homes figure out now — during this period of quiet weather — where they would go during a tornado warning in 2012 and beyond. Storm season is not that far away.

Hat tip: Chris Maier, National Weather Service

8 thoughts on “Gearing Up for Tornado Season 2012, Part 3: New Safety Rules

  1. I would never, ever stay in a car during a tornado. I'd rather get into a ditch. That is crazy…look at Joplin and Alabama. No chance in a car. Very bad idea!!!!

  2. Anonymous – look more closely at Joplin and Alabama. The ditches were OVERLOADED with debris that would kill you. No chance in a ditch.

  3. I am not the original anonymous, but I have to agree with him/her. Statistically, you have a better chance in a ditch than a car. Its crazy to suggest that people leave a mobile home but stay in their car. Totally illogical.

  4. Being from Joplin where we had a F5 tornado, surprisingly there were alot of people who survived in their cars, even ones having being thrown. Its not the safest place to be, but if given the choice of being outside or in a car I guess they are saying it might be a little better.

  5. Hi Rob,

    Yes, the "long form" is the one first proposed three years ago. The "short form" advice about mobile homes is new.

    I wanted to print them in their entirety.

    The school safety rules are tomorrow.


  6. Since when is getting out of a mobile home during a tornado "new" advice? Sorry, but I really didn't see anything new or revised about these "safety rules".

  7. It seems to me that whether or not to stay in a car or get in a ditch during a tornado depends on how close you are to the tornado and how strong it is.

    I understand that MOST tornado deaths are from being struck by flying debris. Getting below ground level helps protect you from that. If you are right in the path of a "typical" tornado (say, EF0 to EF2), I'm guessing you may be in more danger staying in the car because an object may come flying through your windows and hit you directly or cut you with broken glass, which might not occur if you were lying in a low enough ditch or ravine.

    However, if you are right in the path of a violent EF4 or EF5 tornado that is strong enough to pick up a vehicle and toss it, chances are it would suck YOU right out of the ditch anyway and toss you even farther. In that case, you might as well stay in the car since it may provide a sort of protective shield (as the commenter from Joplin seems to indicate).

    Hence, the best thing to do is to try not to get into that situation in the first place.