An overpass is not a tornado shelter

Discuss

77 Responses to “An overpass is not a tornado shelter”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I was told the exact opposite, they even drilled it into us in school. That overpasses are very dangerous places in storms, also I think we went back over it in drivers ed.

  2. T Nielsen Hayden says:

    Underpasses are a bad idea. Keep spreading the word, because that video’s still out there.

    My husband was bicycling across the Manhattan Bridge when a tornado hit NYC last summer. He knew there was a bad storm about to break, but he had no idea it was a tornado. Along with many other cyclists, he took shelter in an underpass on the Brooklyn side, expecting he’d just have to wait out a cloudburst.

    When the strong winds hit, he said it was like being sprayed with a fire hose. The underpass didn’t protect them from the force of the storm; it funneled and accelerated it. My husband left and went out in the open when the storm was at its height because it was better than staying where he was.

    • Andrea James says:

      Here’s a good recent counter-example video:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJkDphU5olo

    • Ito Kagehisa says:

      Oh, but Teresa, that’s an anecdote, so just by relating it here you’ve made something that was formerly data (physical observation of real conditions by a competent observer) totally useless. You scraped all the True Science juice off it.

      Myself, I recently caused gravity to cease working by reading a description of Galileo’s experiments with falling objects aloud to some friends. We all floated up to the ceiling and began singing “I Love to Laugh” from Mary Poppins, it was really cool.

  3. DeWynken says:

    Turn to page 23 if you feed your child to the troll and hide safely under the underpass while he eats him/her/gender unspecified.

  4. Andrea James says:

    Not sure about the 1991 date. That was a common belief when I was little in the 1970s. This NOAA ‘Natural disaster survey report’ on Mississippi Delta tornadoes (p. 39) mentioned overpasses as the “best option” for some residents in the path of a tornado:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=U8BPAAAAMAAJ

    There’s also a Time Magazine article from 1965 via Google describing a trucker who tried to seek shelter under an overpass. I think it seems to be a good idea on its face, and I know sometimes people stop there because hail can accompany tornadoes, and they want to avoid damage to their vehicles.

    When it happens to me, I plan to stay in my farmhouse so I can travel to Oz.

    • Anonymous says:

      Exactly, that is what I was taught growing up in the 70′s as well.

      Now I know better of course, but then?Not so much.

    • rijrunner1 says:

      I was a weatherman for the USAF in the mid-1980′s and we discussed this a lot. The idea of an overpass predates 1991 by a fairly long time.

      We knew it was a bad idea. Best bet is a ditch or other low lying area. Anything that provides a path for air to pass over you.

  5. jenjen says:

    I would imagine it also depends on the overpass. A number of the ones I pass every day have caves hollowed out at the top by homeless guys and are full of mattresses.

    • IronEdithKidd says:

      Sweet Jeebus, please tell me you live somewhere other than the Detroit metro area! Our infrastructure is bad enough without homeless folk (with plenty of other options*) intentionally undermining the structural integrity of our bridges.

      *Lots of abandoned homes; lots of bank-owned, but unlisted houses; plenty of patches of unattended woodland; many homeless shelters; etc.

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree. I see a lot of different overpass designs in my own state of Texas. Spacing between concrete beams and acute angles in the concrete structure of the overpass seem much safer than the one pictured in the article.

      I think a better outcome of the article would be to understand HOW tornados can be dangerous (wind, debris, etc…) and then you will be able to decide on the best shelter.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yeah.. the underpasses around here all have these nice shielded cubby holes I would feel entirely safe ride a tornado out in. I guess they just mean don’t park your car under an underpass an expect that to be enough cover.

  6. jaytkay says:

    So in a tornado direct hit, I don’t think it matters much if you are under an overpass, in a ditch, in your car…

  7. awjtawjt says:

    Basically, cram yourself into the tightest hole you can find. I consider that “life advice.”

  8. Mister44 says:

    I remember when the local news crew was caught under the under pass. IIRC the first time they played it wasn’t edited and had cussing – heehee.

    re: “Because the myth actually stems from one incident in the early 1990s”

    I think it started way earlier than that, hence why these storm chasers hid there.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I also grew up in Kansas, and I remember being told that only idiots shelter under overpasses. We were told that the correct thing to do is to find a ditch and make sure to keep your body well under the edge of it. A crooked earthy ditch is better than a perfectly straight cement ditch. And you should be ready to scurry further down the ditch if it sounds like the tornado is about to dump your car on top of you.

    No one likes actually exercising this safety tip, since it means hunkering down in a trashy, dirty ditch, while probably also getting rained on, instead of sitting in your supposedly safe car. But if a tornado is practically on top of you, it is what you’ve got to do.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I saw one test where they clocked wind speeds under the overpass at up to 25% higher. See Bernoulli’s principle.

    @TriadX1

  11. That Neil Guy says:

    I seem to recall, growing up in Iowa, that we were instructed to get into a ravine, a ditch, something low on the side of the road.

  12. ia_ says:

    The Bernoulli effect in a tornado sounds like fun.

  13. MR says:

    So if we’re not finding shelter under an overpass, then… where?

  14. ToMajorTom says:

    I agree, this “advice” has been around since I was a kid in the 70s.

    As for obstructing others’ path to safety, I like to think my priorities in such a situation would be myself/loved ones, without interfering with others’ abilities to help themselves.

  15. Skep says:

    Ok, so the claim is that the video anecdote is not representative. But what I don’t see is a study that proves the counter claim.

    Anecdotes are powerful convincers, rightly or wrongly. And the idea of taking shelter under a strong concrete structure is highly intutitive. The National Weather Service needs to do more than say “Don’t do it” to convince people that overpasses are worse than being out in the open or in a definately non-tornado-proof building. I need proof. I need context. Something more than what the link offers.

    • aspec says:

      Seriously? There are three explanations quoted on this page:

      1. “These destructive winds produce airborne debris that are blown into and channeled under the overpass where people might try to seek shelter. Debris of varying size and types, including dirt, sand and rocks, moving at incredible speeds can easily penetrate clothing and skin causing serious injuries and possibly death.”

      2. “A person could even be blown out or carried away from the overpass by the fierce tornado winds.”

      3. “People positioned at the top of the overpass encounter even high wind speeds and more missile-like debris”

      There’s the context, this part is the proof: “In the Oklahoma City area in May, 1999, three people were killed and many had serious injuries by a violent tornado while seeking shelter under an overpass.”

      • Skep says:

        “aspec in reply to Skep

        Seriously? There are three explanations quoted on this page:

        There’s the context, this part is the proof: “In the Oklahoma City area in May, 1999, three people were killed and many had serious injuries by a violent tornado while seeking shelter under an overpass.””

        Explanations without references and data are just argument from authority. And a single anecdote of some people being killed doesn’t *prove* underpasses to be dangerous anymore than the anecdote of survivors proves they are safe. That is what I meant by **context**. Just providing an anecdote doesn’t tell us if the anecdote is representative or not.

        I’m not saying the weather services is wrong, but I am saying that their page is not sufficiently convincing to counter the intuitive appeal of the video of survivors who sheltered under an overpass.

        • aspec says:

          It’s explained that the 1991 news crew survived because the tornado was weak (it also didn’t hit them directly, though that’s not mentioned above), which is why that case isn’t representative. That makes it more powerful than just another anecdote. Also, the deaths under the overpass cited by the article aren’t anecdotal, unless you can think of a more authoritative source than the NOAA. I’m not sure if you’re playing devil’s advocate or what, but I think this information is objectively sufficient to warrant skepticism of one video in most reasonable people.

          • Skep says:

            “aspec in reply to Skep
            I’m not sure if you’re playing devil’s advocate or what, but I think this information is objectively sufficient to warrant skepticism of one video in most reasonable people.”

            Yes, I think that the information warrants skepticism of the idea of sheltering under overpasses. I’d rather they providing information that was **convincing** to the average person rather than merely providing the basis for a modicum of skepticism.

            And, again, I’m specifically **not** claiming the weather service is wrong but rather pointing out that their webpage does not provide sufficient evidence to convince people that the video of survivors is wrong. Anecdotes and intuition are powerful–which is why the video is so effective. A web page of dry claims is really not sufficient to counter it, especially when they provide only a single counter anecdote Yes, anecdotes aren’t proof, but psychologically humans are more convinced by vivid narratives than by data. Even knowing as I do that I need to follow the evidence, my intuitive brain says that a report of three deaths is trumped by a video of multiple survivors. Perhaps if there was evidence that *many* people die hiding under overpasses? Or statistics that prove it is actually safer to lie in a ditch or in some random building?

            Just give me something I can sink my teeth into. I expect that the weather service is probably right, but I don’t see any **proof** on their webpage. I want **proof** not claims.

          • Anonymous says:

            I too would like more specifics. Are people more likely to be injured under an underpass?

            People got killed under an underpass isn’t the proof I am seeking.

            People block emergency vehicles isn’t proof it is dangers to be under an underpass.

            The new yourk bike story has some suggestion that it might be more dangerous. But that would be realitive to where the storm was. If the funnel was over the bridge and you could move away from it that would be a good idea but not proof that the bridge was more dangerous.

            Bridges/overpasses fall more douring stroms
            Wind speeds are amplified by X more often than not under an overpass.

            Clearely if you are in a proper shelter than an underpass would be bad. But if you were in a vehicle or foot I don’t see an underpass as a bad idea based on what I read here.

  16. webmonkees says:

    As with most matters of science, mystery and government study, this issue will not be settled till Mythbusters tests it.

  17. Laina Lain says:

    So if one just pops out of nowhere, your ass is just grass?

  18. Sekino says:

    The safest course of action when a tornado approaches is to get out of the tornado’s path… [...] Do ot(sic) try to outrun a tornado in
    a car.

    While I agree that the NOAA has a good point regarding the safety of an overpass (I for one find the prospect of being sandblasted to bits in a wind tunnel a great deterrent), their advices are kinda generic and at times, like above cited, downright confusing.

    I mean, if you advise people to get away from a tornado’s path, chances are they will use their vehicles. So if you don’t want people attempting to outrun it with their cars, wouldn’t it probably be best NOT to tell them to try to get away in the first place?

    They should find the simplest, most relevant procedure then make it crystal-clear and easy to remember so that people can recall it without second-guessing and relate it to each other without getting all mixed up.

  19. Anonymous says:

    It is much older than that as I know people who survived a tornado passing over them TWICE by hiding in an overpass. That darn thing hung a u-turn and came back at them. They say a ditch is where you should be.

  20. jphilby says:

    Parking beyond the overpass, then hiding under it might be preferable to staying with your car. As anyone can tell who’s seen all the cars blown like tumbleweeds in Joplin.

    Lying down in a ditch beside the road might work … if the twister doesn’t go right over you. Or drop anything.

    Ideally, if you know where underground shelter is, you head for it. Otherwise, if possible, I’d prefer to drive at a 90-degree-angle to the storm’s path at the fastest speed I think I can stay on the road. That was the choice I made when I knew the path of a storm from its history.

  21. codesuidae says:

    I always thought the point of hiding under a bridge was to get up in the little ledge at the top where you are sheltered on 4 sides. You’ll have crap blowing past at 250MPH, but that is better than laying out in the open with 200MPH winds trying to pick you up.

    Granted, on a busy road having a bunch of people parked there can be a hazard, but that people are taking shelter there implies that there is some risk inherent in driving around just then anyway.

    I get it that sometimes people get killed sheltering under bridges. They get killed sheltering in basements too. How complete is the dataset of people who sheltered under a bridge, actually experienced a tornado strike, and lived? Seems like the sort of thing that would be much more likely to go underreported than those who died.

  22. Mister44 says:

    This would make a good mythbusters episode.

  23. mike says:

    I think the lowest form of humanity is being expressed by JohnnyOC here, who is trying to defend being a horribly selfish person as being ‘natural’ and using extreme metaphors to do so.

    I used to think good human nature is to save people like him no matter what. But lately I do wish people like him would wear a shirt or something so I could know not to bother in such theoretical scenarios. I guess he’ll be easy to spot. He’ll be the one knocking over elderly ladies while calling it ‘a natural response.’

    • GregS says:

      C’mon Mike, be serious. I challenge anyone out there to honestly say that in a emergency situation, where rapid action is required, that they would not give higher priority to saving their own children or family members or friends over saving some random stranger. In fact, I’d say that if you don’t prioritize your own family or friends over strangers, then there’s something deeply wrong with you.

      • Sam says:

        “I challenge anyone out there to honestly say that in a emergency situation, where rapid action is required, that they would not give higher priority to saving their own children or family members or friends over saving some random stranger.”

        I challenge you to come up with a real word, plausible situation where I’d have to opportunity to save my family but only if I sacrificed a random stranger. Those situations don’t actually exist, they’re fictitious and you can call them “Plot Points”.

  24. rtresco says:

    It was my understanding that nobody WANTS to hide under an overpass, but as the article says, tornados can travel up to 200mph. You can’t out drive that, and the path is unpredictable. This still seems like a perfectly fine albeit unsafe option to me. Isn’t that what drives people into the scenerio anyway – being out in the open and staring down the finger of god with no shelter? Should they keep on driving until their car is shredded like the recent video of the Mack truck. If the author is all in a huff because this is given as advice – fine. Dully noted, it’s a bad idea. But the best bad idea for the situation. Maybe people should keep driving until they find a tree, and then lay down and hug the base of the tree? Heard that “advice” before too.

    • Drowse says:

      Tornadoes don’t travel at 200 mph, the winds can reach over 200 MPH.

      Typical tornado speeds are anywhere from 10-60 MPH. 60 MPH is hard to outrun on a highway grid road network with a tornado moving NE

  25. Drowse says:

    I’m not going to get into the science-y part of this discussion, which is interesting and I love all who contribute here for this discussion..

    But I was going to point out that the current advice given by the National Weather Service is for people to get out of their cars and lie on the ground in a ditch. I’m not going to get in the whys and hows but that’s what is taught in Skywarn Storm Spotter classes and that is the advice I give out to friends who always ask their local storm spotter..

    During the last set of storms that rolled through DFW last week, one of the local TV meteorologists (David Finfrock) actually called people out (while showing a TXDOT camera at TX-183 & Beltline Dr) for parking under a bridge while sirens were going off.

    Anyway –
    There is another piece of advice that I find strange that people still believe is that you should open the windows in your house when there is a tornado approaching. People think the pressure differential is the biggest problem in tornadoes and it is definitely not.. You bring that 100-200 MPH wind into your home, it will want to leave your home out the roof or the back walls of your house and you will have no roof or back wall. Broken windows are easier to clean up than a missing, or shifted roof!

  26. Patrick Nielsen Hayden says:

    You know, to read certainly kinds of online yammering, you’d think the world is constantly presenting people with these stark story-problems: Quick! Will you save your child…or a stranger?

    In real emergencies, of course, such clear-cut choices are on offer about as frequently as the problem of the stowaway on the spaceship delivering critical medical supplies. What we see here is an appetite for contrived narratives that tell us that if we just keep our heads down and look out for #1, it’s okay, and nobody can think poorly of us. DID YOU HEAR ME, I SAID nobody can think poorly of us.

    What’s striking about these narratives is just how unrealistic they are, how little they resemble the way humans actually behave in emergencies, and how peculiarly insistent their fans are on repeating the narratives over and over again, even when the whole subject is barely on topic. I mean, humans are savages. You’ve GOT TO LEARN THAT. You can’t rely on ANYONE. Wait, come back! Come back!

    • Ronald Pottol says:

      In fact, a book came out recently on the subject. It would seem that the powerful and authoritarian freak out, thinking everyone is as awful as they are, but that’s not the case, people do help each other out.

      A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, by Rebecca Solnit (Author)

      Reviewed right here two months ago http://www.boingboing.net/2011/03/22/how-people-really-be.html

  27. Anonymous says:

    “The idea that overpasses offer safety probably began in 1991, when a television news crew and some citizens rode out a very weak tornado under an overpass along the Kansas Turnpike.”

    Not even close. We had TV and radio weathermen telling us that in the 70s in Oklahoma. They didn’t stop that practice until after the May 1999 tornado when those 3 people got sucked out from under it.

  28. T Nielsen Hayden says:

    Ito Kagehisa @18, that gets funnier the more I think about it. Is that why subjects about which many anecdotes are told become impervious to scientific refutation?

    • Ito Kagehisa says:

      Is that why subjects about which many anecdotes are told become impervious to scientific refutation?

      I think you’ve discovered an important corollary to the basic law. ^_^

      I’ve discovered that arguments concerning the efficacy of DDT, the divinity of Ronald Reagan, the wonders of thorium reactors, and the effects of secondhand smoke, radon, and asbestos are all impervious to any sort of logical reasoning – scientific or otherwise! I bet it’s because all the data’s been anecdotalized away.

  29. Vnend says:

    I remember it both ways.

    Originally, yes, I was told to find an overpass (or underpass/culvert (excepting flash flood areas)) and duck up at the top if possible. If nothing else was near-by, then get down in a ditch and hold on.

    Sometime in the late 70′s or the 80′s I started hearing that the ditch was the better option, due to higher wind speeds under the overpass, and to avoid the tight parts under bridges.

    (Vnend, who remembers the ’74 outbreak, and was an unknown (but probably easily countable) number of blocks from the path of the Louisville tornado that day.)

  30. T Nielsen Hayden says:

    Skep, aspec may have cited anecdotal evidence, but the scientific organizations that are saying overpasses are dangerous aren’t basing their findings on anecdotes. A flaw in an argument just means the argument is invalid. If what that argument concluded happens to be a fact, it remains a fact.

  31. Antinous / Moderator says:

    Of course hiding under the bridge is a good idea. DON’T LISTEN TO THE SHILLS FROM BIG DITCH!!!!

  32. Anonymous says:

    Sorry if this lists multiple time, but I keep getting errors

    I am sorry but I really don’t trust this advice. Its presented along with bad advice and has no facts I can see to back it up.

    First…
    So The point about blocking the roadway…
    Do they really advise that in a severe thunderstorm, hail, and potentially a tornado, that one keeps driving? that can’t be true.

    Second…
    Do tornados and overpasses must meet with some frequency. Have they actually ever done any measurements to see if this is more dangerous than say, lying in a ditch. Which I assume is probably the only other option? Staying in your car is a deathtrap, driving in pouring rain and hail is a complete crap shoot.

    People survive in an overpass we all think its safe, people die, we all think its unsafe. Does anyone ever use science to figure this out or do they just guess on what happened last time?

    • T Nielsen Hayden says:

      Anon @35:

      Do they really advise that in a severe thunderstorm, hail, and potentially a tornado, that one keeps driving? that can’t be true.

      Yes, it can. Your car is one of the safest places you can be in open country, and getting away from the most intense part of the storm is also a really good idea, so stay in and keep moving.

      Exceptions: Never drive through moving floodwater, even if it’s just a few inches deep. If the tornado’s so near that your car starts threatening to tip over, get out and hug the bottom of a ditch. And if visibility gets to bad that you just plain can’t continue driving, pull over as far as you safely can, and TURN OFF YOUR LIGHTS.

      Why is turning off your lights so important? Because in a low-visibility situation, your biggest source of danger is other people pulling off the highway and running into you. If you leave your lights on, they’ll think the road has swerved and you’re the car in the lane in front of them, so they’ll drive off the road and into your car.

      Thunderstorms have many ways to kill you, almost all of which are mitigated by being in your car. Big hailstones will mess up your car, but you’ll be protected. Lightning? Car is definitely the best option. Flying debris? Don’t take off that rolling suit of armor.

      Et cetera.

      • RedShirt77 says:

        Have you ever driven in this kind of weather?

        I have and this is what I can say. If there was a tornado near by, odds are you wouldn’t know which direction it was comming from or which way it was heading and that you would be trying to avoid hail and blinding rain, first and foremost.

  33. RedShirt77 says:

    I would concur with those that there really seem to be too little actual information provided to make a strong recommendation. Anecdotes seem to imply that in a direct hit, and overpass won’t protect you. That also seems to be true of lying in a ditch or staying in an internal but above ground room of your house.

  34. soto says:

    Here’s an interesting article on both the 1991 storm where the reporters survived and a 1999 Amber, Oklahoma tornado where there were fatalities and injuries in an underpass.

    http://jeffwise.net/2011/05/24/is-storm-chasing-immoral/

    Yes, this is anecdotal, since it’s a singule data point, but I think that the description of what happened to the people in the 1999 tornado is a vivid illustration of NOAA’s description of the conditions in a tornado.

  35. DeWynken says:

    A tornado hits! What do you do?

    Turn to page 13 if you save your child, OR
    Turn to page 15 if you save the troll.

    • Mister44 says:

      Oh oh – I got it. Let the troll swallow your child whole. After the danger passes, cut open the troll and reclaim your child.

  36. Anonymous says:

    Just so we’re clear, is an underpass worse than flat, open ground? I get the Bernoulli thing–that sounds like a plausible conjecture. (Unless NOAA has done wind tunnel tests with overpass models, in which case, it’s established fact.) But an underpass also has debris protection from about a 180 degree arc horizontally if you’re up against one of the abutments, and more than that if you can get between structural beams. And chances are high that nothing is going to fall on you from above. Open ground, in the absence of a ditch, doesn’t offer that.

    • aspec says:

      “People positioned at the top of the overpass encounter even high[er] wind speeds and more missile-like debris.” < -- Notice that I corrected a mistype that might have caused some confusion. Hiding in an overpass puts you about 10 feet above ground level, which is why it's potentially more dangerous than laying low. If you're on the ground, you're at least as clear from flying debris as you possibly could be.

      “But an underpass also has debris protection from about a 180 degree arc horizontally if you’re up against one of the abutments”

      From the article; “Wind direction will also shift abruptly as the tornado passes tossing debris from all sides.”

      One other thing; in the Oklahoma tornado, three people died seeking shelter under three different overpasses. Technically, that would make three anecdotes. The article that got posted in the comments above describes the injuries suffered by the survivors who were jettisoned meters across the highway from underneath the overpass– and that is a pretty dang vivid narrative.

      • Anonymous says:

        ‘From the article; “Wind direction will also shift abruptly as the tornado passes tossing debris from all sides.”‘

        Yeah, but it’s still not going to penetrate the feet-thick concrete at your back, the steel beam beside you, or the bridge decking above you, which is more than can be said for being in the open, where you have 360 degree exposure and nothing above you to stop falling debris.

        I don’t see how “wind direction will shift” is scary. Lying in the open with a 200 mph debris-carrying wind coming from a single direction vs huddling amongst a bridge undercarriage with a 200 mph wind that shifts directions doesn’t sound like a terribly difficult choice to me.

        I’ll grant for the sake of argument that a ditch is preferable, but if one isn’t available, I flat out guarantee you I’ll choose an overpass before taking my chances in an open field.

        • Vnend says:

          ” ‘From the article; “Wind direction will also shift abruptly as the tornado passes tossing debris from all sides.”‘
          [...]
          I don’t see how “wind direction will shift” is scary.”

          Keeping your balance against a high wind is often compared to leaning against a wall. With linear winds or cyclonic winds from a very large storm (tropical storm, hurricane, wing walking…) you just have to adjust to changes in the wind speed; you keep leaning the same way.

          With a tornado, you have high winds that can appear to completely reverse direction on you in a few seconds. Suddenly that wall you were leaning against is hitting you from behind or the side. You start falling in the direction you were leaning, and now the wind is speeding you up, and you’re a tumbleweed headed for the horizon.

          If you are lucky you hit some nice soft ground that goes squish and all the debris sails over you. If you are unlucky you hit a nasty hard pillar, car, guardrail or whatever and you go squish.
          Lots of the options between those two are not a lot of fun either.

          Or you can simply think of it as wrestling against an opponent way above your weight class. You better be able to shift your balance really fast, or it is match over.

        • aspec says:

          The winds shift dramatically in a tornado overpass or not. Winds that change direction can go around concrete walls. Am I being trolled right now?…

          • Jerril says:

            The winds don’t shift dramatically in a tornado. The tornado never changes the direction the damn winds are blowing in, and unless you get DIRECTLY in the path, go through the eye, and come out the other side, the winds shift gradually – the further away from the eye, the slower they shift.

            This is NOT the same as turbulence, which is what’s happening under the bridge.

            The winds whip up and AROUND the girders, not skipping merrily by because they can’t see you or something. Things get thrown everywhere because of that turbulence – meaning things that are nowhere near you get thrown by a whirl 30 feet away in your direction, even though no wind may be blowing in your face.

            Winds blowing over a flat plain don’t have much to catch on and develop turbulence. That’s why the ditch in the middle of a field is good shelter.

            Yeah, it’s no good if you’re going right up the center of the tornado. NOTHING is good if you’re going right up the center of the tornado, but you don’t know and can’t know where the center of the tornado is going to go. So you have to find something that will be good in the more-likely scenario that you don’t get a direct hit.

          • aspec says:

            In medium to large tornadoes there’ll often enough be smaller, faster vortices within the main funnel, which tend to produce the highest wind speeds in the storm. There can also be satellite vortices in the outflow (outside winds) that can spin up in a matter of seconds. You don’t need to be hit directly to be affected by these.

            I should probably mention that, while I’m definitely not an expert, I actually have studied tornadoes at school, which is why I’m giving my input here. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m just talking out of my ass.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Not only an example of myth in science, but in news reporting as well…this was a common myth at least back into the 70s and 80s, maybe even earlier.

  38. Anonymous says:

    If you stand under a large enough tree so it won’t blow over and the branches will protect you from dangerous falling debrie. You need to be able to wrap your arms and legs around it enough so you don’t be blown away.

  39. Anonymous says:

    Eh.. this is a game of extremes apparently.
    That may 99 tornado was an F5 (now EF5 I guess).. so where are you gonna hide?

    I would still pick an underpass (a legit highway overpass that you can be entirely shielded near the top) over taking my chances with a tornado of that size.

  40. emmdeeaych says:

    Not only is the overpass unsafe as a shelter, blocking roads denies others the chance to get out of the storm’s path,…

    When disaster strikes, you find out who people really are. Most are deeply selfish and do not have a spare thought for you on the best of days.

    • JohnnyOC says:

      “When disaster strikes, you find out who people really are. Most are deeply selfish and do not have a spare thought for you on the best of days.”

      It’s called being human and trying to survive.

      If you had a chance to save your child or save a stranger like me in that situation, who’d you pick?

      Exactly.

      • emmdeeaych says:

        a stranger like you? Someone who poses unlikely scenarios to prove a weak point?

        Perhaps you should understand. You are why I don’t have children, and I would save you anyhow.

        • JohnnyOC says:

          You really think that’s an unlikely scenario?

          There is a tornado/earthquake/terrorist attack and you have seconds to think to avoid being hurt or killed. There are limited choices and if you’re honest you know that you will save you and your family before anyone else.

          Selfish is when you have options. It’s not selfish. It’s self-preservation and saving your family.

          “You are why I don’t have children, and I would save you anyhow. ”

          Hah! And I thought I was cynical. :) I also don’t have children and would probably save you too.

          I just don’t have too much faith when it comes to groups.

      • davegroff says:

        Yes, but if you had to choose between elderly relatives and a stranger’s child who would you pick? Exactly. There’s more to being human.

    • T Nielsen Hayden says:

      Emmdeeaych @1:

      “When disaster strikes, you find out who people really are. Most are deeply selfish and do not have a spare thought for you on the best of days.”

      I couldn’t disagree with you more. If it’s a small-scale emergency that only affects a few people in the immediate vicinity, some individuals will panic, or behave stupidly and/or selfishly. But in a general emergency, just about everyone becomes helpful, cooperative, practical, and inventive. This isn’t theoretical. I’ve been in more than one or two of the things, and that’s what happens.

      Most of the people I’ve seen misbehave during general emergencies hadn’t thought things through, or were running on bad information, and didn’t know what to do. They weren’t evil; they just didn’t have the right pictures in their heads of what to do and how to cope. That’s what emergency preparedness is for.

      The fastest way to turn the situation nasty is to have authorities assume that people aren’t going to behave well, and start treating them that way. If there’s anything people do fast in an emergency, it’s pick up cues.

      Therefore, the idea that people turn nasty and selfish in an emergency is a bad meme, one that’s at least as damaging as the idea that you should take shelter in an underpass during a tornado; and like it, should be refuted at every opportunity.

    • Anonymous says:

      Didn’t we just have a post on Boing Boing awhile ago about how the idea that disasters bring out the worst in people is wrong?

      And then there were links to a very long article about how the real problem is that people don’t know what to do in an emergency, or do the wrong things (e.g. try to shelter under overpasses, not realizing that…), not that they’re out to screw their fellow man.

  41. Anonymous says:

    Where is the best place to hide?

  42. Nylund says:

    Whether or not being under an overpass during a tornado is “safe” is a stupid question. The relevant question is, “Is it MORE SAFE than the alternative, and if not, what is the more safe alternative?”

    Has anyone answered that?

    In the end, what matters is what is the safest of all available options, not simply what is “safe.”

    • aspec says:

      “Is it MORE SAFE than the alternative, and if not, what is the more safe alternative?”

      On a highway with no buildings or exits in sight, the best option probably is the ditch. That’s why tornadoes are so dangerous.

      • RedShirt77 says:

        How do you know that? do they survey people after storms and ask how many survived in ditches?

        And why is the weather service implying that blocking traffic in a tornado is a problem, like they recommend driving away from a tornado.

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