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Severe Weather Driving

Spring may bring showers & new growth, but it's also traditionally the time when severe weather hits most consistently. Tornadoes & severe thunderstorms are as unpredictable as they are violent, which means they don't ever wait to form when we're all save & sound inside our homes.

If a twister or severe thunderstorm develops when you’re traveling through an unfamiliar region, or even while driving near home, you don’t have much time to make smart decisions that can help save your life.

The NWS and Red Cross recommend these actions if a tornado or severe storm pops up while you’re on the go:

1. Know the difference between a watch and a warning:

  • Tornado/Severe Thunderstorm Watch: Tornadoes & severe storms are possible around the general watch area. This tells you to be alert and prepared.

  • Tornado Warning: A tornado has been seen or has appeared on weather radar. This tells you to take immediate action to protect yourself and family.

  • Severe Thunderstorm Warning: A severe thunderstorm is imminent or occurring; it is either detected by weather radar or reported by storm spotters. A severe thunderstorm is one that produces winds 58 mph or stronger and/or hail 1 inch in diameter or larger. A warning means to take shelter.

2. Know how to access emergency broadcasts in case you encounter worrisome conditions:

  • Local news stations via social media, television or radio.

  • NOAA Weather Radio. Dial the VHF public service band from 162.400 to 162.550 MHz for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) All Hazards broadcast.

  • Local NWS Weather Forecast Office. Access local watches, warnings, forecasts and radar images online – just not while driving.

3. The warning signs for a severe thunderstorm can be very similar to those of a tornado. Know them, and keep your eyes on the sky.

  • Dark clouds, frequently greenish.

  • A wall cloud, attached to the base of a thundercloud but isolated and lowering.

  • Flying debris.

  • Large hailstones.

  • A roaring noise, ranging from the sound of a waterfall to that of a jet engine.

  • A funnel cloud, a rotating funnel extending from the base of a thundercloud. Once it touches the ground, a funnel cloud is a tornado.

  • Lightning, straight-line winds, and specific cloud formations are also indicators of severe weather.

If You’re Caught Outside or Driving in a Tornado (or even a Severe Thunderstorm)

1. Don’t wait to see a funnel once you hear a Tornado Warning.

  • Run to a sturdy building. The basement is the safest place, but a windowless interior room on the building’s lowest level is the next alternative. Mobile homes are not safe.

  • Get into your car if you cannot immediately get to a shelter on foot. Fasten your seat belt and drive to the closest sturdy shelter.

  • Don’t try to outrun a tornado, because they can move across the landscape at 60 mph.

2. If large objects start to fly past as you are driving, pull over, park, and choose the best of the following two options:

  • If you can get significantly below the level of the roadway, such as in a deep ditch, get out of the car and lie face down with your hands protecting your head.

  • Otherwise, keep your seat belt on and stay in the car. Lower your head below the level of the windows, protecting yourself with your hands. If any other protection is available, such as a blanket, wrap that over your head as well.

Always remember, whenever you encounter severe weather that a violent storm can escalate and travel quickly. If you’re at home, be ready to put your emergency plan into place, if you can – practicing family drills and setting aside supplies ahead of time will help. If not, take the most appropriate safety measures possible, such as the ones shared above.

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