As a frequent tent camper, I have been caught out in a few extreme storms which led me to research how to survive a tornado. If you spend a lot of time camping or hiking out in the wilderness it is vital to understand tornadoes and the steps that you can take to stay safe when a tornado strikes.
To survive a tornado in the wilderness you need to learn the warning signs of an approaching tornado and the best places to take shelter as well as where to avoid. Generally, stick to low areas and avoid open fields or being close to trees. Never take shelter in a mobile home or an unsecured building.
It is natural to feel a bit of fear when you see a tornado but by following a few general guidelines you can be prepared and significantly increase your chances for survival. Let’s dive into some details about increasing your chances of survival when the possibility of a tornado is imminent.
What Do I Need to Know About Tornadoes?
- Storms that are likely to produce tornadoes occur most frequently during the spring and the summer.
- Tornadoes are much weaker close to the ground and grow in strength with elevation.
- Tornadoes occur most frequently between 3 pm and 9 pm.
- Tornadoes most often move southwest to northeast.
- Tornadoes do occur in higher elevations although they do occur less frequently.
- Wind is not the biggest physical danger when faced with a tornado, the debris caught up in the tornado does most of the damage.
How Do You Know a Tornado Is Coming?
Recognizing a possible tornado situation early is crucial to being able to find shelter before the tornado strikes. Some crucial warning signs to see a tornado before it hits are listed below.
- A dark sky often with a greenish tint
- A wall of clouds
- Large hail in the absence of rain
- Approaching cloud of debris
- Loud roar similar to the sound of a train
- Wind may die down and the air become very still immediately prior to the tornado striking
Being familiar with these imminent warning signs will buy you a few crucial extra seconds to get to shelter.
How to Know If There Is a Tornado at Night
It is far more difficult to see a nighttime tornado unless you are looking at the tornado at the exact time that a lightning flash occurs. The most likely warning you can receive at night is an emergency weather alert that is location-based as an app on your phone.
If you are somewhat near a town or city and the tornado hits that area first it is possible to see bright flashes near the ground as the tornado damages power lines and blows transformers in the power grid.
How Do You Know a Tornado Is Coming?
Sometimes the best preparation that you can do for extreme weather is setting yourself up for as early a warning as possible so that you can react to the situation.
Installing a simple location-based emergency alert app or subscribing to a service to receive alerts via text messages can buy you several extra minutes of time to react in the case of a tornado warning.
If you are camping or hiking in a more remote area where you know you will not be receiving cell phone service consider bringing a small portable weather alert radio to receive local weather warnings.
There are seven dedicated weather radio broadcast frequencies used by NOAA NWR and Weatherradio Canada which are the main sources of emergency weather broadcasts.
- 162.400 MHz
- 162.425 MHz
- 162.450 MHz
- 162.475 MHz
- 162.500 MHz
- 162.525 MHz
- 162.550 MHz
Another option is simply let a friend or family member know where you will be camping or hiking so that they could let you know if bad weather is headed your way.
Where Do You Take Shelter in a Tornado Outdoors?
After you receive your weather alert or hear the tornado warning sirens you need to take stock of your environment before the tornado hits.
The most important way to ensure your survival in a tornado situation is to promptly find safe shelter.
Campgrounds that regularly experiences tornadoes very often have storm shelter built specifically for campers and rangers to take cover in when a tornado strikes.
If you are camping and no storm shelter exists, find the nearest ditch or depression and face down in the ditch covering the back of your head to maximize your safety. Being lower than your surroundings will reduce your exposure to the wind and covering your head will protect you from the debris a tornado will be generating.
While it is less likely for a tornado to hit a mountainous if you happen to be hiking a mountain when a tornado hits the area you need to search for shelter quickly. In this situation, you need to look for any caves or rock shelter available in the area and get as far away from the opening as you can manage and lay down and cover the back of your head. Even a simple overhang will reduce the tornado’s impact and your exposure to debris.
What Types of Shelter to Avoid
If you find yourself in a campground or hiking and camping outdoors somewhat near civilization you might see mobile homes and cars as an option for shelter against a tornado.
- Mobiles homes and cars are not a suitable shelter from a tornado and should be avoided at all costs. Since these structures are not anchored to the ground they can be thrown or destroyed by tornado winds and debris.
- Try to avoid sheltering near trees – Since tree branches can be ripped off the tree and some trees simply broken and added to the tornado debris cloud you could end up in a dangerous situation with flying debris. Getting into some lower elevation shelter like a ditch or dry creek bed will help to mitigate the wind and the risk of debris.
- Open fields are a particularly dangerous place to be when a tornado strikes. In an open space, you are subjected to the full force of the tornado winds and have no shelter from the debris cloud that the tornado will carry with it.
Tornadoes are dangerous weather events but understanding the phenomena and practicing some basic preparedness can go a long way toward increasing your safety.
Simple steps like getting a weather alert system in place to give you more warning and understanding what constitutes good shelter when you are hiking or camping will make your outdoor adventures far safer.
How do you stay safe in a car during a tornado? If you can drive to a convenience store, truck stop, or restaurant you can take shelter there. If the threat is imminent pull off the road and take shelter in the nearest ditch or low elevation area.
Can you outrun a tornado in a car? Tornadoes can move up to 70 miles per hour and change course at any point. With perfectly clear road conditions you can outrun a tornado in a car but if you don’t understand what you’re doing you should not attempt to outrun a tornado.
Is an underpass safe in a tornado? Due to the way an underpass is constructed this is one of the least safe places to be in the case of a tornado due to the wind tunnel effect increasing the force of the wind.