RICK BISSELL, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR EMERGENCY HEALTH SERVICES
For 50 years the National Weather Service (NWS) has been advising people driving in the path of tornados to abandon their cars or mobile homes and lie flat in a ditch if no other shelter was available, and the Weather Channel has repeated this advice since launching 20 years ago.
That was until late last week, when the Weather Channel broadcast new tornado safety guidelines my team developed for the American Red Cross, which recommends staying in your car with the seatbelt fastened and ignition running throughout a tornado warning.
As head of the Preparedness Subcouncil of the American Red Cross, we recently spent a year reviewing scientific literature behind public safety messages related to natural hazards such as tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, etc. We found no evidence to support the NWS suggestion that people should lie in a ditch during a tornado if they cannot find solid shelter. Instead, we found evidence that automobiles provide substantially more protection than mobile homes or being outside. (By the way, who would want to lie in a ditch in a storm with pounding rain, hail, and lightning?)
Working with one of the most active researchers in tornado safety, Dr. Tom Schmidlin from Kent State University, we developed new tornado public advisory guidelines for the Red Cross and our federal partners (FEMA, NOAA, HHS, NWS, etc). We recommended that if you are outside, or in a mobile home, and can reach a car but cannot reach a sturdy building, you should get in the car. I sent this new public advisory and the supporting literature to Dr. Greg Forbes at the Weather Channel and he immediately broadcast the updated guidelines. Click here to watch the new advisory.