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What About This…? 4.3.2014

By Wayne William Cipriano

Now that we can finally stop worrying about deep snow keeping the little darlings at home from school and ice-covered power lines snapping, we can start worrying about the upcoming tornado season.

I’ve heard a few weather people already starting to give life-saving tips on surviving tornado. For the most part these tips are very valua­ble, repeating the good-sense advice we hear every year.

First of all, they say, avoid living in or near a tornado magnet (mobile home). Find a safe haven in an ap­proved tornado shelter (buy your way inif necessary). Hide in a corner of your basement. If you don’t have one, use a central room in your house without windows, or whatever part of your house that might best withstand extreme winds. Advice also heard: wear a helmet (?), hide under mattresses, roll yourself up in a tight ball and kiss yourself good-bye.

There are so many “tips”, ranging from very good ideas to wishful thinking. There is one that I have always wondered about and I’ll bet you have too: If you are in a car do not try to outrun a tornado. Instead, pull over, get out of the car and find a ditch to hide in. Oh, yeah, cover your head with your arms and re­confirm your position on the power of prayer.

I am sure there are hundreds of meteorological journal articles based on studies that have “proven” the benefit of ditch-diving over car-staying. I just don’t believe them. Are there really such studies? Are they recent? Or, do they rely on myths passed on as consensually validated “facts” based primarily on our respect for the person speaking the myth?

Consider how many terrible traffic accidents occur every day in which serious forces arrive to assault driv­ers and passengers. The great majority are not lethal even though the crashes sometimes look impossible to survive. Such survival frequently depends on the use of seatbelts and more recently air bags.

My first objection to abandoning my car lies in the fact that tornadoes move at 35 to 40 mph or so. While the Mighty Camry’s four-cylinder engine might not be the most pow­erful around, I am deeply confident that the motivation provided by a trailing tornado would easily overcome my “Ja-Ja” (Polish for grandfather) driving style and induce me to wring out whatever top speed the Camry can provide. It’s sure as all outdoors gonna be faster than 40 mph!

I understand that just one tornado engulfing your car or just coming close can ruin your entire day, but isn’t it worse for a guy lying in a ditch (even if he covers his head with his arms while making lots and lots of promises to God)?

Sure, the air bags in a car deploy only once and don’t offer much continued protection if, say, the tornado is rolling your car across the highway. But you would still be well-secured to your seat, with a headrest, by shoulder and lap re­straints, and the deployed and collapsed air bags would have help somewhat. All that adrenaline in your system would contribute some stability as you push your feet com­pletely through the floorboards as well.

It just seems most counterintuitive as possible to suggest that sitting in a body-conforming seat with an arrangement of crash-tested restraints, aided by protective air bags within a steel box of a car is less safe than quivering in a ditch by the side of the road wishing I had been a better person ane missed fewer church services. And I won’t even mention the debris flying around in a tornado that has to be a greater threat to ditch-huggers than to car-hiders.

But in truth none of these is the real reason I would stay in the car and race a tornado. The real reason is I do not want to even think about the withering look I would receive from Rosalie when I suggest we exit the car and huddle together in the bottom of a rain-flooded roadside ditch.

Tornadoes are bad, but some things are worse!