Study shows fleeing tornadoes safer

http://www.newhousenews.com/archive/seeman061505.html

But the new study of Oklahoma's legendary May 3, 1999 tornado challenges the tenet that taking flight is foolishness. In that storm, people cowering at home were more likely to die than those fleeing in vehicles, according to the analysis newly published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

I like how they can generalize the safety rules on the basis of one tornado, which the article admits is: "an unusual beast." To me, this seems premature, and basically irresponsible journalism. The author's credibility is damaged when he refers to the Moore/Bridge Creek tornado as the largest tornado, which I believe is not the case. Wasn't there a larger tornado in a less-populated part of the state that day?

For myself and my family, I will still chose an underground shelter as my best option. (Of the people who died at home, how many were actually taking shelter according to NWS safety guidelines?) With enough information (location, lead time, traffic congestion) and knowledge, I agree that fleeing can be a safe option, but for Joe Publick....


Ben
 
I don't think it's good advice to have people getting in their car instead of staying in a well-built house/shelter. However on May 3, 1999 im quite certain many would have been better off attempting an outrun than just sitting under an overpass.
 
There's also the issue of everyone outrunning = traffic jams... not sure in a populated area with such a massive destructive tornado oncoming that everyone gets up and runs will make things any better.

For tornadoes in rural areas, I would agree that outrunning isn't a bad idea, but in populated areas... eh.. not so sure about that...
 
While I don't like the idea of suggest folks should try and outrun a tornado - reality is that the current suggestion that people should take shelter within there homes and get out of cars to get in ditches - really is akin to saying a few may have to be sacrificial lambs for the good of the many. With individuals spread out more, taking shelter in their homes, fatality counts will more than likely be modest, whereas if everyone tried fleeing it would be more of a boom or bust type statistic, depending on whether the evacuation put folks in more or less harm. Since it isn't currently possible to evacuate on a neighborhood specific level > 15 minutes in advance, there is no real hope of a flee for safety approach. It would be better to see housing developers voluntarily build group shelters or safe rooms in homes to offer a far better alternative to fleeing when advance warning is available.

Glen
 
Found this while doing some more searching about the Wichita Falls tornado online - story about a man who was trying to outrun it in his car (along with everyone else, sounds like). Over half the fatalities that day were in vehicles.

I'm all for running if a person is in the country and has access to unobstructed roads ... but no way in any town or urban area.

http://www.tornadoproject.com/safety/manes.htm
 
Also, when you get a tornado that's as strong as the May 3, 1999 Moore/Bridge Creek tornado, all bets are off. Surviving something like that is truly a blessing by God. And yes, there was an even bigger tornado that day. It struck Mulhal, OK, between OKC and Stillwater. That tornado was nearly 2 miles wide I believe and damaged or destroyed every single building in town. The town was literally "wiped off the face of the map."

Of course, the Hallam, NE, tornado from last year was even wider...nearly 2.5 miles.

Another example of people getting caught in their cars. I believe a couple of people that died from the Catoosa, OK, tornado of 1993 died in their cars. It struck I-44 on the northeast side of Tulsa...during rush hour. That was really that last signficant tornado to directly impact the Tulsa metro area. ::knocks on wood::
 
It DOES seem like in certain situatons - fleeing in a vehicle might be the wisest thing to do. Here in South Carolina, you could count the number of storm cellars on one hand, and the number of mobile homes are astronomical. I live in a brick house with a basement, but others who live in less structurally secure homes, probably would benefit by leaving. **Just a question, but why aren't there roadside storm refuges along the Kansas turnpike, or other major interstates in areas prone to tornadoes? Seems like it would be very inexpensive and easy to control. Remote-controlled locks could be installed and opened and shut as need be. This sounds kinda goofy, but.....where WOULD you go if you were actually trapped by a tube, and didn't know the area at all? I know...a ditch is the safest place to be, but a storm cellar COULD save a life or two. Just an idea.
 
Just a question, but why aren't there roadside storm refuges along the Kansas turnpike, or other major interstates in areas prone to tornadoes?
Interesting thought, Steve, and one I've never considered. My guess would be that, cost prohibits it more than anything. There would need to be one every few miles, and there are many miles of highway in Kansas. They would also have to be fairly large, since you might have a large clump of traffic during the event. You'd have to be able to fit everyone in. Of course, they'd have to be handicap accessible. Statistically, what are the odds of a particular bit of highway being struck? Not very likely. By the time the shelter actually becomes useful, the costs of building and maintaining it would be astronomical. You can't put a price on life, but this would largely just be a drain.


Ben
 
Safety

I do believe that if a person knows what direction a tornado is traveling, its approximate speed, has plenty of safe road options and can keep a cool head that yes fleeing a tornado in a car etc. would be a good idea compared to staying home etc. and waiting for the tornado to possibly make a direct hit. A person can easily walk out of the path of even a miles wide tornado in approximately 12 to 15 minutes let alone the distance you could travel in a car. I have seen a number of incidents on TV etc. where people have stayed in there homes (Jerrel Texas), took shelter under an overpass (Oklahoma 05/03/99) etc. and died having more than enough time to outrun a tornado. Safety rules/guidelines vary per situation and what might work in one situation may not work in another. Choosing to stay in a bathroom/closet etc. like at Jarrel may get you killed while trying to outrun a tornado as it moves through Witchita Falls Texas may get you killed, use of one's own better judgement seems to be a good option rather than sticking firmly to any one safety rule. Large debris (such as chimneys etc.) and shifting foundations have killed people that were taking cover in basements, my best advice would be to pay special attention to TV/radio on potential severe weather days and if a warning is issued for a county nearby and you are seriously concerned for the safety of yourself/family then don't wait until the sirens go off or a warning is issued for your county, get in your car and drive SAFELY into a nearby area out of the path of the storm/tornado, allowing plenty of time for yourself to escape can be your best survival tool during times of severe weather.

Note!!: These are my opinions........
 
While I don't like the idea of suggest folks should try and outrun a tornado - reality is that the current suggestion that people should take shelter within there homes and get out of cars to get in ditches - really is akin to saying a few may have to be sacrificial lambs for the good of the many. With individuals spread out more, taking shelter in their homes, fatality counts will more than likely be modest, whereas if everyone tried fleeing it would be more of a boom or bust type statistic, depending on whether the evacuation put folks in more or less harm. Since it isn't currently possible to evacuate on a neighborhood specific level > 15 minutes in advance, there is no real hope of a flee for safety approach. It would be better to see housing developers voluntarily build group shelters or safe rooms in homes to offer a far better alternative to fleeing when advance warning is available.

Glen

I have often wondered why safe rooms are not standard construction in tornado prone areas. If added at time of construction, it does not add that much to the bottom line, but sure adds value in terms of human protection. I saw at one time, Alabama was looking into this but not sure if anything was ever passed.
 
Alex Lamers wrote:

And what is the "American Journal of Epidemiology"? Seems like a medical-type title. Haven't ever seen it before if its weather related.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a unit called National Centers for Environmental Health (NCEH) that, among other activities, studies the health and safety issues around natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, tornado, etc. in an effort to provide assessment and injury/disease prevention guidance to the public, and guidance to medical providers for dealing with mass trauma. I have occasionally noticed their studies cited in reading about significant tornado events involving death and injury.

Looking at their official guidance on tornado safety, http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/tornadoes/during.asp, it seems to pretty much follow the standard language. I would imagine it would take quite a few more rigorous studies before the guidance would actually change regarding fleeing in a car.
 
I have often wondered why safe rooms are not standard construction in tornado prone areas. If added at time of construction, it does not add that much to the bottom line, but sure adds value in terms of human protection. I saw at one time, Alabama was looking into this but not sure if anything was ever passed.

Oklahoma was actually looking into this after 5/3/1999. I'm all for it. I can't say I've investigated too much into it. But after paying thousands of dollars for a house that you'll be paying off for many years to come, a couple of thousand more for a safe room seems quite reasonable to me. I think it should be required here like the specs for earthquake construction in California or the roof-clamps in Florida.

I think it got as far as some new housing additions that were constructed within a year of the tornado. They tried including safe rooms in all of their houses. It was somewhere in S. Tulsa/Broken Arrow. Not sure how that turned out though.
 
Apples and oranges? A thought experiment

Here's the critical passage in the report on the study.

About 16 percent of people in the Oklahoma storm path tried to flee, researchers estimated. Two people were killed trying to reach their vehicles. Two others, killed under highway overpasses, which can act like wind tunnels in tornadoes, may have been fleeing.

Twenty-eight people died in their homes.

Relying on their sampling, the researchers calculated that people fleeing in vehicles had a 40 percent lower risk of death than those hiding in homes, including houses, apartments and mobile homes.

Better weather forecasting and advanced warnings, extensive TV coverage and increasingly sturdy cars may have helped people escape the tornado, said the paper's lead author, Dr. W. Randolph Daley, a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of the people dying in their homes, what fraction lived in well-constructed homes with basements and what fraction lived in mobile homes? Of the 16% who fled their homes, how many went to their trailer park's storm shelter? How many lived in rural areas?

There is also the little issue of tornadoes' tendency to strike in the late afternoon and early evening, a part of the day otherwise known as "rush hour".
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The bottom line is if you live in a tornado-prone area you should either have a shelter/basement or have one near-by that can be reached in a few minutes or less. Trying to gather your family, get in the car - then driving to (?) is not a good option. I guess the saving grace is that weather coverage on the big days is good in populated areas. This gives people a lot more time to react.

Mike
 
Once you start considering the idea of trying to tell people it's ok to flee a tornado in a vehicle under specific conditions, then all you will do is create confusion and make it even worse for the general public to know what to do. Look at the infamous bridge video in Kansas and how it's widespread dissemination infected the public with the idea that bridges are good places to take shelter from a tornado. Despite years of efforts to counter-act this, there are still quite a few people that still do this when a tornado approaches.

Besides, this study was done by the American Journal of Epidemiology? LOL!! I'd love to spend about 30 minutes with these folks and discuss their "study". I think they are idiots myself and this is a very dangerous abuse of "studys" that seem to permiate our society today and one that the mindless drones of the news media pick up and run with in this day and age of sensationalist news stories.

What I'd like to see is an official study released that says better building codes along with safe rooms constructed in your house is the best way to survive a tornado.
 
The Gen. public shouldn't be trying to outrun tornadoes in thier cars, they don't have the knowledge which could allow them to do this with success, they may end up driving into the tornado if it is not seen, the traffic issues, etc. all of that screams don't try and outrun a tornado.

That said, if there is a confirmed torando heading toward my home or a storm shows huge amounts of rotation on radar, that which would likely produce a tornado, i would be on the road in 5 mins. Why, because i live in a house that is around 100 year old, has no basement, is ringed by large, very old trees and the house itself is not all to sturdy, being it is that old. i, myself, would stand a better shot at living if i chose to drive away from the storm, but many would if they went into basements.

thats my opinion, summing it up, most people on this board could drive away from a tornado, we know the way a storm works usually, which is why there are people out chasing and "catching" tornadoes, this same knowledge could be reveresed to get away from a tornado. But 99% of the people who live in the U.S don't.
 
Fleeing tornados

Example of why fleeing a tornado in a car may be a good decision:

05/11/00/Blackhawk County, Iowa (where I live): only 1 fatality occured and that was an elderly women who died 17 days later after being CRUSHED in her BASEMENT as the tornado shifted the foundation onto her. The tornado was rated a strong F3.

I believe that under the following conditions it is acceptable to flee a tornado in your car:

1. If you live in a mobile home!

2. If you're not located in a big city or other urban area during rush hour etc.!

3. If you have plenty of notice that a tornadic storm is approaching and know the road network in your area well!

To say that fleeing a from a tornado when you have plenty of lead time and a good road network is the wrong thing to do, is not a good answer, like I said before, safety rules can vary per situation. Just because the National Weather Service says its the best thing to do doesnt mean it is! Case in point:

The stronger of the 2 tornadoes that ripped through Harrison county the afternoon of 5/16/99 killed 2 people and destroyed 6 homes and a bridge before it dissipated a couple of miles east of Logan. A family of 5 leaving a high school graduation party encountered the tornado on a road around 6 miles northeast of Missouri Valley and took cover in a ditch about the time the path of the tornado widened to a quarter mile. Two of them were killed after their car and a 3-ton combine head were thrown on them. There were also numerous flipped or smashed vehicles in this area. F37OU, F15OU

Was getting out of there cars and into a ditch a good idea for these people?

Safety rules vary per situation!
Telling people to say in there homes when they dont have a basement and when a tornado like Oklahoma City/Jerreled Texas is comming your way can mean an almost certain death sentence! Its fine if there is only 1 person who needs to go to the closet or bath tub but what if you have a family of 5??? Can't fit 5 people in a bath tub, can't fit 5 people in a closet. Many homes don't have basements in Texas/Oklahoma.Its time to change some old safety rules....
 
If I'm in a well constructed building and faced with the choice of whether or not to flee or stay where I am - I'm going to stay where I am - the chances of being in a building which sustains F4 or F5 damage are not great enough in my opinion to warrant fleeing. Only 2% of all tornadoes are rated F4 or greater, and of those the F4+ damage occurs over a fairly small portion of its path, so the way I see it the odds of surviving a tornado at home are overwhelmingly in my favor. Plus recent history is full of examples of people surviving strong tornadoes by taking proper shelter in a home or building (Cordell 2001, Moore 2003, Mulvane 2004, etc).
 
An older couple was parked next to us on June 12 at the Shamrock, TX Best Western. They asked me if they were ok to drive north to Liberal, to which I replied "yes." The man asked me what they should do in case they did drive up on a tornado. I told them "turn around and drive the other way."

I always tell people that, if they are already in their vehicles when they enclounter a tornado, to turn around and drive away. Tornadoes are relatively small storms, and in most cases are a quarter mile wide or less, which isn't that large of an area to get away from. The one thing I always stress to folks when I'm answering this question is "Do NOT stop your car and get out and get in a ditch." That is suicide IMO. A car is both heavier and faster than a human being, so that gives you two chances to come out of it better than getting out of the car itself.
 
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