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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Weather safety tips while on the road

tornado.jpgWhen Oklahoma is in the midst of tornado season, everyone knows safety is of utmost importance. When at home and the sirens sound, seeking shelter is key.

However, some Oklahomans may not be at home near their shelter at the time of a tornado outbreak. If caught out on the road in your vehicle, what steps must be taken to help ensure safety?

Gina Peek, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension housing and consumer specialist, said each situation is different.

“The main point here is no vehicle, no matter what type, is a safe place to be during a tornado. Even large vehicles such as SUVs and 18-wheelers are no match for the fierceness of an Oklahoma tornado,” Peek said. “All vehicles can be blown over, picked up and tossed through the air, crushed and destroyed.”

People can easily get hurt, or even lose their life, if their vehicle is struck by a tornado or crushed by a falling tree. Residents can help avoid these unsafe situations by being alert and aware of the possibility of severe storms and tornadoes in the area in which you are traveling.

In the event of a tornado in the area in which you are driving, Peek said what you need to do depends on your location, the location of the tornado, road options available to you, nearby structures, traffic and current weather conditions.

“With today’s technology, it’s much easier to keep up-to-date on weather conditions than it was even just a few years ago,” she said. “Local television stations have apps for your smart phone that let you easily stay on top of the latest weather information. However, as a safety measure, pull over to the side of the road before using your phone, unless you have a passenger with you who can use the phone. Some smartphone apps use the GPS chip in the phone to pull up the latest radar imagery for your specific location.”

Also, your car’s radio is an important tool, too. Find a radio station broadcasting up-to-the-minute weather information. Keep in mind, however, drivers who are listening to satellite radio or CDs won’t hear vital weather updates. Make sure you are tuned into local radio stations.

Peek said drivers also should know their exact location. Radio announcers will be using town and county names, as well as names of various highways and streets, as they provide information regarding the location of a tornado.

If the tornado is far enough away, and road options and traffic allow, you should try to find a substantial building for shelter. Once there, follow basic tornado safety guidelines of get in, get down and cover up. Businesses located alongside the road on which you are traveling, such as convenience stores and truck stops can be good sources of shelter. As always, take cover in an interior room.

“It’s important to keep in mind you should never try to outrun a tornado when you’re in your vehicle. You may be able to avoid a serious situation by driving out of its path, or simply stopping and letting it pass,” she said. “The worst case scenario is to be caught in your vehicle with no possible escape. This situation is more likely to happen in metropolitan areas during rush hour or on limited access roadways such as the interstate where it’s not possible to exit quickly and find shelter.”

Abandoning your vehicle to seek shelter in a ditch should be your absolute last resort. You expose yourself to flying debris, flooding rains and hail, lightning and extreme wind. However, if you have no other option but to leave your vehicle and seek shelter in a ditch, try to get as far away from the vehicle, as well as any other potential flying objects, as possible.

Do not seek shelter under an overpass, despite what you may have seen on television. As the winds from the tornado channel under the overpass, they actually speed up, increasing your chances of getting blown out from under the overpass. You also are exposed to flying debris.

“We’re in the heart of tornado season in Oklahoma and knowing what safety precautions to take while on the road could save your life,” Peek said.  “Consider postponing your trip and waiting for better weather.”



Trisha Gedon
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
Oklahoma State University
159 Agriculture North
Stillwater, OK  74078
405-744-3625 (phone)
405-744-5739 (fax)

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078