Are You Safe Under a Highway Overpass?

Learn how to stay safe in the eye of a killer tornado — wherever you are.

ByABC News via logo
June 13, 2008, 9:17 AM

June 13, 2008 -- A record number of deadly tornadoes have cut a path of destruction across America this spring, causing millions of dollars in damage and more than 100 casualties.

If you're caught in the center of a killer storm, there are several recommendations about how to keep your family safe. But many are myths, and following certain advice could prove deadly.

Myth #1: Hiding Under a Highway Overpass

Tornado survivor Kevin Weber wanted to protect his new car when he parked it under an Oklahoma highway overpass in 1999. It was an F-5 tornado, the strongest there is, and he sought refuge as time was running out.

"I buried my face and just tried to hug this concrete and steel as hard as I could," Weber said. "If I would have let go, I would have zipped out of there at 100 mph."

Weber's car, which he didn't want damaged by the hailstorm, was found in a pile a mile away from him. Only the steering wheel was recognizable.

Hiding under an overpass worked for Weber, but experts say it isn't always safe.

"There is a chance you can get incredibly lucky and get out of it," said Harold Brooks, a meteorologist at the National Storm Laboratory. "But there is also the chance that it can be a very, very devastating place to be."

So, what do you do if you're riding in your car and a tornado is coming right at you? Experts say to get away from the car and find a ditch or a gully. Once there, lie down as low as you can.

Myth #2: Opening Doors and Windows

If you are at home during a tornado, experts say not to waste precious time.

For decades, Americans followed the advice of an old public safety announcement that told people to open doors and windows in order to equalize the air pressure inside and outside a house.

But now, experts say that announcement is merely a dangerous myth.

"Really, it's more important to take shelter than try to open or close windows," said Melanie Metz, a storm chaser.

"The tornado will very efficiently open the windows for you," added Peggy Willenburg, another storm chaser.