WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — Tornadoes have not changed over the last 70 years but some of the ways we protect ourselves from them have.
The advice on tornado safety can become outdated, like the idea of getting into a certain corner of the house.
When asked what some of the worst old tornado safety advice is National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Rick Smith had this to say.
“Probably the one that really jumps out is the idea that you needed to open windows and doors as the tornado was approaching,” Smith said.
The thought behind this advice was that this would allow for pressure changes to balance out more easily and stop the low pressure of the tornado from causing the house to explode.
As time and science would prove, not only is this advice not helpful but it is actually bad advice.
“Really, that can even make matters worse when you look at how the winds get into a structure in a tornado, Smith said. “A lot of times what will happen that causes damage is a window gets broken. A garage door gets blown in. And once that air gets in the structure, it lifts the roof off. And then that’s how most of the damage happens.”
There was also some old advice for vehicles that the weather service no longer gives out.
“We used to give advice on specific instructions of how to drive away, drive at right angles to the tornado’s path, which to me was always confusing,” Smith said.
There is a history of some people attempting to drive away from a tornado, but is there ever an instance when that’s recommended?
“We don’t want people to be in a mobile home in a tornado,” Smith said. “So what are they supposed to do? So the advice we give for driving away now is if you have to do it, you can’t wait for the warning. You had to do it earlier.”
Earlier, as when the watch is issued not the warning.
To best understand how tornado safety has changed it helps to know how a tornado can harm you.
“The goal of tornado safety is to get you as far away from the tornado winds as possible,” Smith said. “It’s not the tornado itself that’s going to hurt you. It’s what’s it in the tornado. It’s the flying and falling debris, things as small as a piece of gravel, things as large as a piece of a house flying through the air at a high rate of speed.”
There is one piece of advice that hasn’t changed over the years and that’s the safest place to be in a storm.
“So the best place to be is to be underground, in an underground storm shelter,” Smith said. “There’s lots of old school storm shelters still around the area. Fraidy holes, people call them in some areas”
However, if you don’t have an underground storm shelter there is now another option.
“Almost tied with that, though, is now these engineered safe rooms that are above ground, structures that are concrete and steel,” Smith said. “They’re anchored down and they provide pretty much the same protection as the underground shelter if they’re installed correctly.”
With all of the changes to advice, has the advice on what someone should do when they are caught in a vehicle during a tornado warning changed?
“People never like the answer, but the answer is don’t be in your car if there’s a tornado,” Smith said. “One advantage over the last seven years, certainly, and even the last 20 years is much better forecast, much better weather information. Your best defense about having to make that decision is to pay attention to the weather”
Smith’s biggest piece of advice that families can do right now is to sit down and make a plan. He said it only takes five minutes to figure out where and how to keep your family safe.