WICHITA, Kansas – Many people take shelter under an overpass when there’s the threat of a tornado while they’re on the road, but is that the safest place to be?
April 26, 1991, the date of the Andover tornado, the day one of the biggest misconceptions about tornado safety while driving unfolded; taking shelter under an overpass.
“I know people used to do that I’ve seen people do that I’ve also known that people have gotten sucked out of them,” said Marth Tausche.
It may seem like a safe place to be, there’s a place to stand and hide with concrete shelter overhead, you can also park your car underneath so the overpass to protect it from debris and hail.
In 1991, a KSN photographer and reporter gathered with several others underneath an overpass, at one point it was rated an EF-0, meaning wind speeds ranged from 65 to 85 miles per hour.
At another point, you can see a car being lifted off the ground by the tornado.
The science explains why: wind speeds increase in the tight space due to what meteorologists call the ‘Venturi Effect’.
As a tornado approaches an overpass, air conserves energy by accelerating through confined spaces like overpasses.
Although the 1991 tornado was an EF-0, the wind speed was maximized as it traveled through the tight space in the overpasses.
This increases the danger of being hit by debris like glass, dirt, or other litter that may be near the overpass.
While the KSN crew was very fortunate, this video had a very unfortunate and unintended outcome as some people believed an overpass was ultimately was a safe place to be during a tornado.
It was tragically shown to be false in 1999 when three people in the Oklahoma City area were killed, and several more injured while seeking shelter under an overpass.
There were also several reports of roads blocked by cars stopping near the overpass, preventing emergency vehicles from getting where they needed to be.
Had the tornado in 1991 been stronger when this video was taken, there would likely have been a more tragic outcome.
The safest course of action while driving is to get out of the tornado’s path or seek shelter in a building.
If you cannot do so, lying flat in a ditch will offer the best protection from tornado debris.
So is hiding underneath an overpass a safe place to hide?
This is a weather myth.