How to Handle a Tornado When You're Behind the Wheel

It's the stuff nightmares are made of. You’re driving along, and all of a sudden, you see a tornado in the distance. If you're not prepared, you might panic and make a bad decision. But if you understand what to do before it happens, you can take control and keep yourself safe. Following are a few of the most important dos and don’ts you need to know.

Change Direction and Seek Shelter

If you see a tornado far in the distance and you’re not stuck in traffic, attempt to get out of its path by driving away at a 90-degree angle to its direction. So, for example, if the tornado is heading east, you'll want to drive to the south.

If you’re able to drive away, head to a sturdy shelter like a restaurant, convenience store, bank, or truck stop. Once inside, make your way to a basement, hallway, a room without windows in the center of the building, or even a walk-in cooler.

Stay Low

If the tornado is nearby, do not try to outrun it. Instead, pull over and evaluate your options. If you can safely get to a ditch or other level that is lower than the roadway, exit your car and quickly make your way to that spot. Lie down, cover your head with your hands, and remain there until the tornado passes.

If there’s no lower ground nearby, you’ll need to remain in your vehicle. In this case, keep your seatbelt on and get as low in the seat as possible. Make sure your head is below the window, so you’re not injured by broken glass. If you have a blanket in your car (you should have one in your emergency kit), use it to cover your head. Otherwise, cover your head with your hands and wait for the tornado to pass.

Do Not Take Cover Under an Overpass

Since experts recommend heading for cover when a tornado hits, you may think about trying to take shelter under an overpass or inside a tunnel. However, not only do these structures offer no protection during a tornado, but since they channel high winds, they actually create extreme danger from flying debris.

Crowding under an overpass or inside a tunnel will also block traffic. This could prevent other vehicles from getting out of the way of the tornado or prevent emergency vehicles from reaching affected areas.

Be Careful After the Tornado Passes

Once the tornado has passed, remember that the danger isn’t completely gone. There will likely be a lot of debris, including nails, broken glass, and other sharp objects. If you’ve left your vehicle, make your way carefully back, taking care to avoid anything that might injure you. Also beware of downed power lines, as it may be impossible to tell whether they are live.

If you return to your vehicle and notice that it has suffered serious windshield damage or other damage that may make driving dangerous, avoid driving and call for help instead.

Learn More Driving Safety Tips

Knowing how to handle severe weather and other dangerous driving situations can be the difference between life and death. Whether you’re a fairly new driver or you have decades of experience, an adult driver's ed course can help sharpen your driving skills so you can stay safer behind the wheel. You may also get up to a 20% discount on your vehicle insurance. Learn more today!

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