Tornado Flips Truck and Driver Drives Away

Warren Faidley

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Not posting here for an argument, but I'm amazed the NWS and the CDC still says it's OK to abandon the vehicle.

NWS National Homepage: In a vehicle: "Being in a vehicle during a tornado is not safe. The best course of action is to drive to the closest shelter. If you are unable to make it to a safe shelter, either get down in your car and cover your head, or abandon your car and seek shelter in a low lying area such as a ditch or ravine.

CDC National Homepage: "If you’re unable to make it to a safe shelter, either get down in your vehicle and cover your head and neck or leave your vehicle and seek shelter in a low-lying area such as a ditch or ravine."
 
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Feb 20, 2018
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Story with driver, all is ok: 16-year-old driver tossed in Elgin tornado lucky to be alive - a Chevy dealership in Ft. Worth is giving him a new truck

I’m using this story as an opportunity for a learning experience: I’ve been telling friends and family (who share the story with me) that it’s important to have a higher level of situational awareness when driving on a severe weather day, especially one with a high threat for tornadoes. Much like driving through a neighborhood with children playing in the front yards, it’s best to have one’s head on a swivel on a day with a tornado threat.

This is certainly not a criticism of the kid’s driving: but, being 16, I’ll have to think that he may have just been looking at the road ahead (which may have been fine in better weather)

There may have been a chance for the driver to notice the tornado a few seconds early and slow down to let it pass in front of his truck. Most importantly, I’m glad he’s fine.

I work for a company that is starting a driving school here in Texas (we do other things as well) and I’ve asked the managers if we would consider offering a lesson- or at least creating a brochure and/or website link- about driving in severe weather.

As shocked as I was to see this, I am also using this story as a learning opportunity. While I'm not a chaser, I have been a SkyWarn Spotter for 12 years, and even without being in 'spotter mode' as I call it, I have seen the effects of not having that higher level of situational awareness when driving during severe weather, especially with high winds and, at least in news stories like this, tornadoes.

My drive-home point when I tell my friends and co-workers about being a spotter is that safety is the most important factor. With spotters you put your personal safety before sending in the report to NWS. Spotters and chasers have both been killed as a result of not having that 'head on a swivel' and being in the wrong place at the wrong time as a result.

I work for an environmental consulting company, and safety is the most important part of the company culture, especially with driving. I've driven in severe weather when on assignments in the field and have had to 'keep my head on a swivel' while at the job site and on the road. I can't tell you how many close calls I've had in the field and on the road when I let my guard down even for just a few minutes. I'm not criticizing the driver here - I'm glad he's alright. But it definitely serves as a reminder to keep your wits about you, and don't let yourself get distracted or develop 'tunnel vision' by just looking ahead.
 
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Michael Towers

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Glad the kid’s okay, if all he ultimately suffers is a little PTSD then he should consider himself lucky.

Not posting here for an argument, but I'm amazed the NWS and the CDC still says it's OK to abandon the vehicle.
My only problem with the ditch is if you have time to get out of the car and run to a ditch you might have time to drive out of the path and avoid getting hit altogether. If not then for me it would depend on the car, the ditch and the tornado. If I felt that staying in the car increased my chances of getting pelted by debris, lofted into the air and mangled to death then I’d opt for the ditch, otherwise pick your poison.
 
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Warren Faidley

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As chasers we can generally make emergency decisions as to escape or bail. Old safety information is hard to correct even in today's vast media outlets. Some people still think you should tape up windows in advance of a hurricane or to open windows during a tornado to reduce "pressure" in the house.
 
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James K

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Warren Faidley said:
seek shelter in a low-lying area such as a ditch or ravine.
I've always seen stuff like that...
But my thoughts have always been different (and maybe this is a thing due to living in CO with the mountains)...to me pretty much the last place you'd want to be in a thunderstorm is a creek/ditch/ravine - because thunderstorms have rain (and often heavy rain at that), which means the creek/ditch/ravine could flood & flash-flood at that.
I don't know? Is that not so much an issue out on the plains?
 
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Michael Towers

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I've always seen stuff like that...
But my thoughts have always been different (and maybe this is a thing due to living in CO with the mountains)...to me pretty much the last place you'd want to be in a thunderstorm is a creek/ditch/ravine - because thunderstorms have rain (and often heavy rain at that), which means the creek/ditch/ravine could flood & flash-flood at that.
I don't know? Is that not so much an issue out on the plains?
Unless a ditch was already flooded I’d take my chances with any flooding that occurred during the brief period while taking cover from a tornado (which very likely wouldn’t approach a mountain ravine-type event or be life threatening).
 
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It all depends on the situation. There may be time to pull over to see the proper motion of a storm-harder to do at speed. I seem to remember a recent phys.org article that questioned the wind tunnel effect of overpass. Moore 99' was deadly due to no exposed girders. I remember Tim Marshall on Oprah right after Twister walking up between metal supports such that he was swallowed in shadow...unlike the father and daughters in the infamous underpass video. I wonder if anyone ever used manholes...drainpipes. In 1998, the Oak Grove school hallways were full of blocks-the survivors were in the gym-yet the heavy bleachers blocked falling debris-go figure.
 

rdale

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Unless a ditch was already flooded I’d take my chances with any flooding that occurred during the brief period while taking cover from a tornado
Back in 2013 a prominent TV weathercaster in OKC told people to leave their homes and drive south to avoid the tornado. All deaths that occurred in the OKC area were from floods.

 

Michael Towers

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Yeah, I remember, tragic senseless loss. Unfortunately the victims left the relative safety of their home and took cover in drainage ditch to ride out the storm…not the same thing as a minute or so in a dry roadside ditch to survive a tornado.
 
Oct 10, 2004
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Back in 2013 a prominent TV weathercaster in OKC told people to leave their homes and drive south to avoid the tornado. All deaths that occurred in the OKC area were from floods.

Ah yes, the infamous El Reno day. That was pretty much the worst possible setup for him to do that on air; with a supercell that produced a significant tornado, then evolved into a training HP complex with smaller rain-wrapped tornadoes and very heavy rain over the same areas for a long duration.
 
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Ah yes, the infamous El Reno day. That was pretty much the worst possible setup for him to do that on air; with a supercell that produced a significant tornado, then evolved into a training HP complex with smaller rain-wrapped tornadoes and very heavy rain over the same areas for a long duration.
He received a award that year. Several say he saved their lives. Sorry mods. I responded before realizing how far off topic I was getting.
 

Todd Lemery

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Unfortunately the pickup driver was one of many oblivious drivers on the road at any given day. By not even realizing he was about to meet a tornado, any other options for safety were eliminated when he didn’t even realize he was in danger in the first place. It’s hard to react to a danger that you have no idea is coming.
 

Jeff Duda

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Not posting here for an argument, but I'm amazed the NWS and the CDC still says it's OK to abandon the vehicle.

NWS National Homepage: In a vehicle: "Being in a vehicle during a tornado is not safe. The best course of action is to drive to the closest shelter. If you are unable to make it to a safe shelter, either get down in your car and cover your head, or abandon your car and seek shelter in a low lying area such as a ditch or ravine.

CDC National Homepage: "If you’re unable to make it to a safe shelter, either get down in your vehicle and cover your head and neck or leave your vehicle and seek shelter in a low-lying area such as a ditch or ravine."
Probably the main reason they still say this is because they can't say "Don't be in a car in a tornado...if you have nowhere else to go, you're probably f---ed, but try a ditch anyway. Good luck."

I think Skip Talbot was the one who said this to me, but I rely on a pretty simple rule: "the best way to not get killed by a tornado is to not get hit by a tornado."

Corollary: If you're in a vehicle and a tornado is approaching, you're way better off trying to drive away from it than to abandon it and seek shelter unprotected in the outdoors. A ditch will not offer very good protection unless you can anchor yourself to be flat as a pancake against the ground and have some weeds or grass to deflect small debris near the ground.

Now, if you can get into a sewer pipe or a deep enough ravine and you have something to hold onto, then I'd say you might want to consider that if you can't drive away.

I'll add that I disagree with Chevy giving the kid a new truck, as I worry that could serve as a reward for some degree of stupidity or ignorance. But Chevrolet is a private company and they can do whatever they want. My opinion is not important to them. And if it gets them credibility and/or extra sales, then smart move on their part!
 
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I agree the guidance is confusing… I am no expert on this subject, but find it impossible to imagine abandoning a car to go lay in a ditch… If you are in a car, either you realize a tornado is *about* to hit you, and you should be driving away from it, OR you realize too late that you are *already in it*, in which case it would seem to be too late to do anything. If the tornado is already upon you, imagine the presence of mind needed to exit the vehicle and find a “safe” spot… This requires the ability to counter the human instinct of self-preservation and actually leave the shelter of the vehicle to go out into violent wind and blowing debris… Would you even have the physical ability to open the door and move quickly, with tornadic winds and blowing debris against the door of your car??? The only time I could imagine resorting to a ditch is if I were outside of the car already when I realized I was “in” a tornado; in that case it *might* be a better choice to hit the dirt than try to get in the car and drive.
 

Warren Faidley

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When I did research for my storm survival guide, I was amazed at how many people are killed and injured from weather-related transportation accidents. I think the researchers came up with an average of 800 people killed per year. (US average death toll is 46k total). This would include everything from wet roads, fog, dust, ice, flash floods, etc. I think the majority of accidents could be avoided by simply not driving in shi__y conditions.

The point is that no matter how many times you warn people about driving near (or into) storms, they are still going to think they can beat the odds, often with total disregard of the hazards, driven by the inertia of zero patience. Some believe their cars are a safe fortress, along with the mentality of "it won't happen to me."
 

rdale

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Your last point is spot on... 99.99999999% of drivers will never be involved in a fatal car crash or car vs tornado incident. So if they think "it won't happen to me" it's because the odds are in their favor.
 
Apr 23, 2010
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I was thinking that maybe the truck was cushioned by a layers of air flow.... fit for wind modeling
Speaking of that, phys.org had a paper yesterday called "Sophisticated fluid mechanics model: space-time isogeometric analysis of car and tire aerodynamics." I would like someone at OU get with them on this!