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Old 04-27-2016, 11:03 AM   #1
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Tornado Avoidance Strategies?

We are in the "thinking stages" longish trip out west next year, about this time. This week's outbreak of hail storms and tornadoes caused me to wonder what sort of avoidance/dodging strategies people have when traveling.

Our first pass at charting a route takes us through Oklahoma. (We'd be traveling from NC to AZ.) And while I know that tornadoes/hailstorms can break out anywhere, Arkansas/Oklahoma seem to be sure bet for severe spring storms.

So, anyone have war stories? Advice? I've heard stories of people spending high-quality time in concrete restroom buildings in the campgrounds as storms passed, but wondered what else I might like to know. We don't have tornado sirens in NC, and when we heard one sounding last spring in Ohio, it took us a bit to connect sound with meaning.


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Old 04-27-2016, 12:08 PM   #2
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Get the free American Red Cross Tornado App for your smartphone. Give it access to your current location, and let it "push" tornado watches and warnings to you.

Red Cross also has apps for other natural disasters, like hurricanes and wildfires, so the suite of apps is useful anywhere in the US. And every Red Cross app comes with a smartphone flashlight app as part of the package. Which helps.

By the way, fun facts to know and tell, the state with the highest number of tornadoes per year is Texas with an average of 139 per year. Oklahoma comes in second with an average of 57 per year. But the state with the highest number per year per square mile is Iowa. So that is the state I'd avoid if I was worried about tornadoes.

When I was a college student in Oklahoma back in the late 70s, I was driving home to visit with family over a holiday weekend, and got caught in a tornado. I saw it coming but because of deep water-filled ditches on either side of the road, and crossroads a mile apart, I had nowhere to go. I pulled over into an abandoned and boarded-up service station that was between me and the storm, under the metal awning that connected the building to the pump island, and as close to the building as I could get. I rolled down all of my windows and laid down on the floor of the car as far under the dashboard as I could get (that goodness it wasn't a stick-shift!). Fortunately, the tornado lifted off the ground before it got to me, but it passed directly overhead, and it ripped the metal awning right off the building. It picked my car up a little, and slammed it into the side of the building hard enough to dent the entire passenger side, but didn't send the car flying or I wouldn't be here today. The overhanging metal awning provided that much protection, at least. If the windows had been rolled up, the sudden pressure drop outside would have exploded all of the windows in the car, but with the windows rolled down the pressure drop only affected my eardrums. I was bleeding from both ears after the tornado passed. When they say it sounds like a freight train, they ain't lying. After resting well enough to regain my equilibrium (damage to your eardrums makes you dizzy) I discovered that the car was still marginally driveable, sort of, so I drove the rest of the way home to my parents' house.

It didn't affect me, but a few months ago, a tornado struck a commercial RV campground near the town of St. Rose, LA, only a dozen miles from where I live. Every single RV and trailer was totally demolished, and so was every toad and tow vehicle. I drove by a couple of days later after and saw the devastation for myself. It was horrific. So do not think you can ride out the storm in your vehicle or trailer. The mere fact that I survived in my car all those years ago was because the tornado wasn't a direct hit on me. I know better now.

- The tornado warning might last half an hour, or it might last all night. Plan on it being all night (or all day), just in case. Tornadoes are most common between the hours of 4pm and 9pm, but can happen anytime.
- When you hunker down for a tornado, do it in the sturdiest unlocked building in the area, and know in advance what and where that building is and how to get there in the dark. Ask the camp host when you check in.
- Take a water bottle, munchies, necessary meds, and a flashlight. Have a "go bag" prepacked so you can grab it quickly on the way out without having to root around for it. Even if the tornado watch only lasts a few hours, you might be stuck there longer if the building is damaged. Also, you might not have a trailer or tow vehicle to go back to, so what you carry might be all you have.
- Stay as far away from doors and windows as you can, but if any windows or doors can open on the side facing away from the approaching storm, open them first before hunkering down away from them. Relieving pressure differences between inside and outside can help save the building, and you with it.
- Call to tell someone where you are hunkered down before the tornado arrives, because the cell towers might be gone after the tornado has passed and you might not be able to call after. Instruct the person you called to call local civil defense in your area to search for you if you don't call back with an all-clear after the storm. Because even the sturdiest building might come down on top of you. Knowing which pile of rubble to look under will help rescuers find you sooner.
- If you're with kids, they'll be scared, and rightly so. Don't let them play games on your phones to keep their minds off of it. You'll want to preserve the batteries just in case. It may be a long time until the next recharge.

But don't let all of that scare you. A tornado watch or warning always covers a huge area, and only a relatively narrow swath will be affected by any one tornado. Your chances of being bypassed are much greater than your chances of being hit. But the chance of being hit is not zero, so knowing what to do, and doing it, improves your chances.

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Old 04-27-2016, 12:11 PM   #3
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We were traveling across Nebraska back in 2013, stayed overnight at the Cabelas in Sidney. Pretty good storm came up, would have taken our tent if I hadn't had a rope tied to a sign. It rocked our Sienna pretty good and when the lights went out in the CG we joined many others in the concrete block restroom/showers. It was pretty scary but was just straight line winds. One lady had just been through a tornado a month before and she was very scared / nervous.

We were in Texas in March, several storms came close but no damage. Our plan was to again, go into the restrooms. The size of a tornado will make a big difference. If it's a 1-3 I'd say you have a chance, a 4 or 5 you'd best be praying. I was in Louisville, KY in the 70s when a category 5 came through but I wasn't in the path. There were two schools side by side before the storm, then there was one. Almost nothing left of the first one. The funnel was so big you couldn't even tell it was a funnel cloud.

When we travel I really watch the weather and if something is coming toward our destination we try to stay where we are until things look better. If it comes up on us, we head for the restrooms or other sturdy structure. You don't want to be in something the wind can get underneath like a car or trailer. You don't want to be under a highway overpass, that just concentrates it. You do want to be protected from things flying in the air so indoors somewhere or laying flat in a ditch if nothing else presents itself.

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Old 04-27-2016, 12:36 PM   #4
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Know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. Watches and warnings are issued by county, so ask your camp host which county you're in and just what part of that county.

Watch just means the weather people think conditions might be right to form a tornado. These are issued for large areas and usually last for hours. We Tornado Alley natives almost ignore a Watch, but it does make us start looking at our radar app pretty often. When the app starts to scare us, we tune in the local TV station. The weatherman will have the channel to himself if there's anything really serious going on.

Tornado warnings are issued when it's getting real. They are usually for a much smaller and more specific area. Warning means someone has identified a radar signature typical of a tornado, or that a spotter has actually seen one. A warning for your area means it's time to take shelter.

Time will be limited, maybe very limited, so know in advance where the shelter is, and have that grab bag ready to go.
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Old 04-27-2016, 12:44 PM   #5
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We live in an area with excellent TV coverage of storms, showing the path right down to the street names on a live map.

Don't assume that level of detail is available else where.

A few years ago in SE Wyoming the local weather guy was chasing a tornado for a live report, had a visual on it BUT HAD NO IDEA WHERE HE WAS! At that point all he was doing was making everyone hysterical.

I agree with the above posts, do what you can to stay informed and know where to take cover.
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Old 04-27-2016, 12:50 PM   #6
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Thank you all for such wonderful advice! I've already gotten that Red Cross app on the phone.
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Old 04-27-2016, 02:09 PM   #7
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Hi Lynn

Having lived in North Texas, both in and out of "tornado alley" for the past 40 plus years, the only advice I would add to the above would be perhaps to not pass through North Texas or Oklahoma between the end of February and the middle of May to maximize the chances of missing severe weather. Protag is correct in that the tornadoes and hailstorms are actually only a small (in relative terms) segment of the swath of a storm but not traveling through in tornado "season" improves your chances quite a bit. That said, the December 26 tornado that tore through Sunnyvale, Garland and Rowlett and took out an RV park in Sunnyvale was an out of "season" storm but there are predictably fewer of those outside of the spring months.


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Old 04-27-2016, 03:37 PM   #8
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Go really fast through the plains and watch the weather by whatever means are available to you. Slow down and enjoy life once you are into the mountains. Then just watch for the occasional snowfall in the spring. If it snows, sit for a day, and it will all be gone. ��
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Old 04-27-2016, 05:17 PM   #9
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Having spent last night in a Missouri state park around KC during the storms. Get a good weather app and check with camp host or ranger. They had a Maint shed with concrete safe room if needed to be opened by host. If staying in private CG ask if they have a shelter or planned location. Traveling thru OK the CG on I-40 and Rockwell OKC has an on site below ground shelter. If you worry about the weather all the time you will miss out on some enjoyable moments. Go for it.
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Old 04-27-2016, 05:47 PM   #10
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I grew up in the Panhandle region of Texas, where severe weather is common. The thing to remember about tornadoes is unlike other weather they only affect a small might go by a half mile away without affecting you at all. So the odds that any one particular place will be hit are quite small. For that reason I wouldn't alter travel plans just to avoid tornadoes. I do generally take notice wherever I am of the best place to an RV park this is usually the bathroom/shower facility or some other building with few windows. Note the newer rest areas in Texas are usually designated storm shelters. If you want to minimize risk the highest chance of tornado producing storms seems to be during the months of May and might avoid the southern plains states during those months.

Hail storms are a different matter, as they can affect a wide area. Subjectively it seems homes in north Texas get hit by damaging hail every 10 or 15 years. For that I think you just have to watch the weather forecast. The nav system in my truck can display a radar map (via Sirius satellite radio) that shows hail and high winds. I generally watch that while traveling to see what I'm getting into for the next hundred miles or so.
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Old 04-27-2016, 05:56 PM   #11
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Correction. CG in OKC at I-40 and Council. Cousins from Amarillo will only stay there because of shelter. She freaks about the storms even living in TX panhandle all her life.
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Old 04-27-2016, 06:08 PM   #12
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Travel with a chicken, one for every occupant of your vehicle. Other than the obvious benefit of fresh eggs every morning, chickens can't fly and therefore are tornado proof.
Stay away from cows, barns, semi tractor trailers and anything heavy, it's a chicken you want to have a hold on to save your life.

For proof, find me a twister movie that shows a chicken getting thrown around.

Per Mare, Per Terram and may all your campaigns be successful.

ďItís a recession when your neighbor loses his job; itís a depression when you lose your own.Ē "Harry S Truman"
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Old 04-28-2016, 06:28 AM   #13
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Many thanks!

Thank you all for the tips and things to know/remember with regard to severe weather. And chickens....I will get some chickens. (LOL!) Who knew?
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Old 04-28-2016, 08:09 AM   #14
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If you are traveling through Texas, here is a link to a map of "safety rest areas"...might be handy if you are on the road and see severe storms ahead:

(Or google "TXDOT safety rest areas")

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