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During a Tornado, Run, Don’t Gawk

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By Stan Finger

RISMEDIA, May 10, 2011—(MCT)—One video circulating in cyberspace—shot by a 12-year-old boy with his cell phone in the back seat of his vehicle—shows a tornado closing in on a family driving in North Carolina last month —right up until the tornado hits them.

Another shows a tornado closing in on a Walgreens in Wilson, N.C., shot by a man in the parking lot who seems oblivious to the danger he is in until the last second.

“Hang on—I love you,” he tells his wife as the tornado bears down on him, as if finally realizing he may be moments from death.

The videos startled officials at the National Weather Service. In response, they’ve issued a fresh round of tornado safety tips to counter bad information—or simple ignorance—when it comes to tornado safety.

People seem to be “just clueless” about what to do if a tornado threatens, says Dick Elder, meteorologist-in-charge of the NWS’ Wichita branch.

In response to the tornado outbreaks in the South last month, Elder says “we are saddened and humbled by the number of people who have been killed and injured.”

More than 300 tornadoes recently touched down in six states, killing at least 344 people.

“I am saddened and frustrated at the growing number of lost lives from the recent tornado outbreaks,” says Charlene Miller, assistant director of emergency management for Butler County. “As public servants, we can only go so far. There is a level of personal responsibility that each and every one of us are accountable for.”

Eleven of the tornadoes that touched down were rated EF-4 or EF-5 on the Enhanced Fujita Tornado Scale.

Tornadoes in those categories can be killers even if people take all the proper steps to protect themselves, weather officials note. But far too often, they say, videos showed people doing absolutely the wrong thing as violent weather struck.

“You would look at that and go, ‘My goodness, they’re pretty stupid,’ ” Elder says.

More and more, he comments, the desire to capture a dramatic storm on video seems to be trumping common sense and safety.

Yet others may simply have forgotten what to do. That’s why weather officials are relaying the safety information.

“It’s always a good reminder to tell people where to go to save themselves,” Elder says, commenting that he is still troubled by the video of former Wichita television reporter Gregg Jarrett and his cameraman taking shelter from the weakened Andover tornado under a highway overpass on the Kansas Turnpike in 1991.

The clip recently surfaced on Fox News, where Jarrett works. In the piece, an “expert” on tornado safety says using an overpass for shelter is a good idea—even though weather officials have stated for years that an overpass can be a lethal place to be if a tornado approaches.

“I hate seeing that, because then people will start thinking, ‘Maybe that’s what we should do,’ ” Elder says. Three people were killed in May 1999 in Oklahoma when they took shelter under overpasses during a significant tornado outbreak. The overpasses become wind tunnels and debris collectors as a tornado nears, authorities have noted, making them particularly dangerous.

Tornado Safety

Here are ways you can protect yourself and your family if a tornado threatens:

• Before the storm:
- Develop a plan of action
- Have frequent drills
- Have a NOAA weather radio with a warning alarm tone
- Listen to weather information
- If planning a trip outdoors, listen to forecasts

• In homes or small buildings:
- Go to the basement or an interior room on the lowest floor (i.e., closet or bathroom). Upper floors are unsafe
- Wrap yourself in overcoats or blankets to protect yourself from flying debris

• In schools, hospitals, factories or shopping centers:
- Go to interior rooms and halls on the lowest floor. Stay away from glass-enclosed places or areas with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums and warehouses
- Crouch down and cover your head. Don’t take shelter in halls that open to the south or the west. Centrally located stairwells are another good shelter

• In mobile homes:
- Abandon them immediately and go to a designated shelter or ditch. Most fatalities occur in mobile homes or vehicles.

• In automobiles:
- If possible, get out and go to a sturdy structure or ditch
- If there isn’t time, buckle your seat belt and get below window level of your vehicle

For more information visit www.kansas.com.

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