According to the Storm Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), tornadoes spotted in Minnesota have dramatically risen over the years. During the 1980s, Minnesota experienced less than 200 tornadoes. That number doubled to 426 in the 2000s. Driving through a storm can be a frightening experience for anyone, especially if you see a funnel cloud in the near distance.
WHY FUNNEL CLOUDS ARE DANGEROUS
During tornado warnings, the safest plan of action is to stay off roadways and not drive anywhere. Tornadoes can be unpredictable and can easily change directions quickly.
The NOAA describes a tornado as the most violent atmospheric storm. Tornadoes are narrow, powerful rotating columns of air that extend from the base of a thunderstorm to the ground. A tornado can be recognized by its characteristic funnel shape that is made up of water droplets (condensation), debris, and dust. If this condensation funnel makes direct contact with the ground, it is considered a tornado. However, if the funnel cloud does not touch the ground, it is not technically a tornado.
The fierce, powerful winds inside a tornado’s funnel cloud spiral upward and outward, acting like a powerful vacuum. As the funnel cloud passes over and touches the ground, the sheer strength of the tornado can destroy everything, including homes and structures, in its forceful path.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SPOT A FUNNEL CLOUD
Even if you take all the necessary precautions while driving, the weather can change at a moment’s notice and you could find yourself face-to-face with a funnel cloud. If this happens, the first rule to remember is “do not panic.” It’s always important to stay calm and use common sense when faced with an emergency situation.
Follow these storm driving guidelines:
If you spot a funnel cloud nearby and think you are in immediate danger, do not attempt to outdrive it. Pull off the road or highway, and take immediate shelter in a nearby building or emergency shelter.
If you don’t have enough time to get away from the tornado and debris flies by and/or hits your car, immediately pull over to the side of the road/highway and park your car.
Remain inside your vehicle with your seat belt fastened. In order to protect your body, cover your head with your hands or a blanket and crouch down below the windows.
If you get caught in a thunder and lightning storm, do not touch any metal surfaces inside or outside your car.
Sometimes leaving your car might be a better, safer alternative. Use good judgment and check your surroundings before exiting your vehicle. If it looks like a funnel cloud could hit your car and you don’t have time to seek shelter, then carefully exit your car, move far away from your vehicle, and crouch or lie down in a low-lying area (such as a ditch). Protect your head with your hands, or with a blanket or jacket.
BE PREPARED BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE HOUSE
The American Red Cross advises that when driving in severe weather, it’s important to be prepared for potential emergency situations. If you find yourself stuck in your car, you will have enough supplies to keep you safe and warm.
Always carry a disaster supply kit it in your trunk including water, a first aid kit, high-protein snacks, a flashlight, a warm blanket and/or rain poncho, a battery-operated radio with extra batteries, your prescription medication, etc.
Before you leave the house, tell a family member or friend about your route and the time you plan to arrive at your destination. If your car breaks down or you become stranded during a storm, someone will know your whereabouts and will be able to send help to look for you.
Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged before you leave the house.
PAY ATTENTION TO LOCAL STORM WARNINGS AND ROAD CLOSURES
While driving in bad weather, tune into a local radio station to follow late-breaking storm and tornado warnings. Flashing signs used along Minnesota roads and highways are used to warn drivers about severe weather threats. If you pass one of these signs while driving and/or you happen to be caught in a storm, turn on your headlights and immediately exit the roadway.
In order to keep motorists safe during extreme storms and blizzards, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) closes roads and highways in order to prevent accidents and injuries. Pay attention to local road closures such as signs, barricades, and closed gates. For more information about Minnesota road closures during stormy weather, check out MnDOT’s 511 Traveler Information.