Join 3,440 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Keep calm or freak out
May 17, 2010 8:02 AM   Subscribe

A tornado forms in front of a car taking video. A study of the spectrum of human reactions. NSFW language.
posted by jjray (94 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Serious question: why would the answer be to get out of the car and lie in a ditch instead of say, driving like hell in the opposite direction?
posted by naju at 8:12 AM on May 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


Interesting -- I actually found the tip about rolling your windows down useful.

Not sure how well two people can map a "spectrum," though.
posted by Shepherd at 8:12 AM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Serious question: why would the answer be to get out of the car and lie in a ditch instead of say, driving like hell in the opposite direction?

It was their first date and he was just looking for an excuse to cuddle.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:14 AM on May 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


Talk about icewater in the veins!
posted by rikschell at 8:14 AM on May 17, 2010


Cow...
posted by brundlefly at 8:14 AM on May 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


I always get stuck behind couples like this at the supermarket, or the movies.
posted by Vinegaroon at 8:14 AM on May 17, 2010 [13 favorites]


Since they were pulled over on the left side of the road, I deduce it was a divided highway. With traffic (and weather) driving in the opposite direction is contraindicated.

Also, I was always taught that the pressure inside a tornado is lower (i.e. open the house windows so they don't blow OUT), so if anything opening the windows should make it harder to open the door.
posted by DU at 8:17 AM on May 17, 2010


Serious question: why would the answer be to get out of the car and lie in a ditch instead of say, driving like hell in the opposite direction?

Here's a list of what to do in case of a Tornado. It says:

"In a car, get out and take shelter in a nearby building. Do not attempt to out-drive a tornado. They are erratic and move swiftly."

"If there is no shelter nearby, lie flat in the nearest ditch, ravine or culvert with your hands shielding your head."

Either way I wouldn't just sit there in the car taping it, I'd be trying to get to a safe place. Also - am I the only one who found the man's voice gratingly condescending? There's keeping a cool head in a dangerous situation and then there's being smug about it.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:18 AM on May 17, 2010 [10 favorites]


You want me to lay in a fucking ditch???
posted by KokuRyu at 8:19 AM on May 17, 2010


"as a tornado forms in front of there car..."

Oh fercrapssake.

("Werewolf?" "There wolf." ["Young Frankenstein"])
posted by Mike D at 8:19 AM on May 17, 2010 [7 favorites]


Wow. Also, I am confused because I live in Raleigh and don't recall a tornado three weeks ago.

Also - am I the only one who found the man's voice gratingly condescending? There's keeping a cool head in a dangerous situation and then there's being smug about it.

I'd bet he was talking himself down as much as he was trying to calm his wife. There's no way he wasn't scared to death.
posted by something something at 8:20 AM on May 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'd bet he was talking himself down as much as he was trying to calm his wife. There's no way he wasn't scared to death.

Okay, I can accept that. It definitely better than panicking, anyway.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:22 AM on May 17, 2010


Yeah, he gets husband (or boyfriend, or whatever) points for knowing what he's talking about and staying calm. Well done, dude.
posted by dammitjim at 8:26 AM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Cow...

Twister is hands-down one of my all-time favorite terrible movies. I should just buy it already.
posted by rtha at 8:28 AM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


wow, really cool video.
posted by Dick Laurent is Dead at 8:28 AM on May 17, 2010


Actually, Solon and Thanks, there's something of a debate right now among tornado safety folks about staying in the car: Tornado Safety - Cars Versus Ditches: A Controversy

Apparently the Red Cross and National Weather Service/NOAA disagree on the value of leaving the car. This article points out that in most tornadoes (the weaker ones) cars do not flip over but in stronger ones your car will be tossed around, which is bad if you're in it. I do think it's funny that the NOAA person in that one says planning is important - as if most people encounter tornadoes on the road with advance warning.

Anyway, this part in the first link seemed most useful:

I'd try first to drive away from the tornado. Both the NWS and the American Red Cross actually also advocate this. If you can determine which way the tornado is moving toward, face your body toward that direction and then go to the right, as shown in the diagram below. That is usually toward the south or southeast. The reason that it's best to head this way is that if you went to the left you would normally get into the region where largest hail and blinding rain occur in the kind of supercell, rotating thunderstorms that often spawn tornadoes.
posted by mediareport at 8:30 AM on May 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


Also, I was always taught that the pressure inside a tornado is lower (i.e. open the house windows so they don't blow OUT), so if anything opening the windows should make it harder to open the door.

It doesn't really matter which one is higher or lower. Moving a great big flat piece of something against a pressure differential is going to be easier if it is half the height (ie the top half is empty because the window is down). Deflecting air (in either direction) is easier if the air can, to some extent, pass through the object instead of just around it.

There's no way that dropping the window could make it harder. It might be easier to open the door on the other side of the car, though. The side of the house/car that is got wind blowing on it will be high pressure, the side in the lee of the wind will be lower pressure. It won't be all sides of the house that blows the windows out, but the side opposite to the direction of the wind.
posted by Brockles at 8:36 AM on May 17, 2010


I'm sorry, I would just be a jabbering idiot. That was incredibly scary looking.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:40 AM on May 17, 2010


Twister is hands-down one of my all-time favorite terrible movies. I should just buy it already.

I would have to say the Twister pinball game is one of my favourite memories of hanging out in the SUB during university.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:40 AM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


on Fark yesterday was this tidbit of delicious irony:
FAIRFAX — A farm where scenes from the 1996 movie "Twister” were shot was hit Monday by a real tornado.
...
During the filming of a scene in "Twister,” film crews tracked actors along a road and taking shelter beneath a bridge as a tornado passed over. The track of the fictitious tornado in the film and the real one that hit Monday appeared eerily familiar, Harrison said.

"The path of the tornado came exactly the same way that they made it in the movie,” he said.
posted by Mach5 at 8:45 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's what it must be like to be trapped inside a balloon with balloon guy. That guy dialed nerd up to eleven.
posted by jsavimbi at 8:46 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


The video is amazing but I would hate to be married to either one of those people.
posted by Brittanie at 8:46 AM on May 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


It doesn't really matter which one is higher or lower. Moving a great big flat piece of something against a pressure differential is going to be easier if it is half the height...

Which one is higher and which is lower defines whether you are pushing "against" a differential in the first place.
posted by DU at 8:47 AM on May 17, 2010



Either way I wouldn't just sit there in the car taping it, I'd be trying to get to a safe place. Also - am I the only one who found the man's voice gratingly condescending


I thought he handled it well.
posted by Liquidwolf at 8:51 AM on May 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


I do think it's funny that the NOAA person in that one says planning is important - as if most people encounter tornadoes on the road with advance warning.

Actually, in the stereotypically tornado prone Kansas, they're pretty good at predicting when there will be severe weather that has a chance to produce tornadoes. This usually happens maybe 10 times a year? This is the whole idea behind a Tornado Watch. You sit there, refresh WeatherUnderground.com and wait 20 minutes for the squall line to move through. If you're lucky it'll be severe enough for local news to breathlessly talk about hook echoes, arrival times and hail the size of small cars. It is exciting but fairly avoidable, tornadoes (at least here) do not just drop out of the sky without some warning.

I will say they're incredibly lucky to get such a great shot. No rain, hail or debris and there's a break in the clouds behind the tornado to give it some great light. Usually it is dark, you can't see anything, you're watching the radar map, then lightning and holy shit foreboding wall cloud, back to black, lights flicker, local news is freaking out, things get silent, then hail starts pounding, and so it goes for a sort of exciting 10 minutes.
posted by geoff. at 8:51 AM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


as for the car vs ditch, two buddies from high school were on the way from from a golf competition with their dads and got caught in a car during a tornado, Palm Sunday, 1965... they both died...
posted by HuronBob at 8:56 AM on May 17, 2010


I really don't understand the negative attitudes toward the man. That in a tense, frightening situation his tone was a bit condescending (frankly I don't hear it) is some kind of cardinal sin that makes him a horrible person? Really?

I should hope that my wife, in situations where I am freaking out, does nothing worse than adopt a putatively condescending tone while remaining calm, giving good advice and generally handling the situation about as well as it can be handled.
posted by oddman at 8:57 AM on May 17, 2010 [25 favorites]


Tennis, Trigonometry, Tornadoes: A Midwestern Boyhood [pdf]
posted by chinston at 9:06 AM on May 17, 2010


It's absolutely obvious to me that the guy was scared nearly crapless and chose (whether consciously or not) to go in the direction of calm, emotionless advice. I will observe that when the car does start moving, he (presumably the driver, at least by my speaker orientation) drops the hammer DOWN and gets the HELL out of there. If he was condescending, well then, he was condescending. I can't say I'd be better under the circumstances.

The gal also did a pretty good job with "OK, I'm scared and I'm going to panic. . . this much." The way she goes from squeaking terror to "What? No I'm not going to fucking lie down in a fucking ditch!" is kind of hilarious.
posted by KathrynT at 9:09 AM on May 17, 2010


That video is awesome with the sound off.
posted by jamaro at 9:19 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, he gets husband (or boyfriend, or whatever) points for knowing what he's talking about and staying calm. Well done, dude.

Indeed. At the moment of crisis, he's keeping his head together. Those still alive afterwards can thank him for their continued ability to call him condescending.

I do think it's funny that the NOAA person in that one says planning is important - as if most people encounter tornadoes on the road with advance warning.

One aspect of planning is to just talk with your loved ones about the situation ahead of time. The woman freaking out had probably never even heard of the lying-in-ditch tactic, and that moment was not really a good time to argue about it, dig up canonical references to convince her, etc. If you've talked about it beforehand, the second time you hear it you're not as freaked out about the concept.
posted by intermod at 9:20 AM on May 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


Re: car vs. ditch, isn't one of the major risks flying debris? I would think a car would offer some protection to this, rather than lying exposed to flying fence posts and barbed wire.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:22 AM on May 17, 2010


During the filming of a scene in "Twister,” film crews tracked actors along a road and taking shelter beneath a bridge as a tornado passed over.

Which is something you shouldn't actually do. (though I admit, being faced with a tornado and having the choice of staying in the open or going under a bridge, I'd be hard pressed to not seek the illusion of safety.)
posted by quin at 9:27 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid, I stood outside in my yard and watched a funnel cloud form as the storm moved overhead. It was fascinating. I watched as it moved further downrange, extending closer and closer to the ground, until it finally touched-down several miles away. Nature sure is amazing.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:29 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I liked the part where the woman was freaking out, but still called him "baby." That behavior never fails to amuse me. Also, this guy is pretty dang good in a tense situation.
posted by heyho at 9:31 AM on May 17, 2010


I found this guy's calmness in the face of the tornado very creepy. How do you know the guy sitting next to you is just calm and not a psychopath? Sort of like Christopher Walken in Annie Hall?
posted by digsrus at 9:33 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also: I've never seen a tornado and not sure I'd want to, but I did see a waterspout and that was freaking awesome.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:36 AM on May 17, 2010


Isn't a tornado a low? Wouldn't it be therefore easier to open the doors if you didn't "equalize the pressure"?
posted by Pollomacho at 9:38 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Indeed. At the moment of crisis, he's keeping his head together. Those still alive afterwards can thank him for their continued ability to call him condescending.

He kept his head together until he decided to try to outrun a fucking tornado in his car. At that point he just became stupid. If that cell phone video had been found near the smashed, twisted wreckage of an upturned car, 'condescending' isn't the word people would be using to describe the guy.

Those still alive afterwards can thank him for his luck.

/grew up in tornado country
posted by mudpuppie at 9:38 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh cool, I can meet Sexy Women in My Area.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:41 AM on May 17, 2010 [8 favorites]


This article points out that in most tornadoes (the weaker ones) cars do not flip over but in stronger ones your car will be tossed around, which is bad if you're in it.

But cars these days are pretty much designed to be able to flip over without killing the occupants anyway. A full-on roll cage and 5-point-harness would be nice, but even in normal cars it's relatively common for people to come out of a major rollover accident relatively unscathed as long as they are wearing their seat-belts.

I would think a car would offer some protection to this, rather than lying exposed to flying fence posts and barbed wire.

I would think so too. The windows are the weakest points, and even they can withstand what would otherwise be a fatal impact from debris. The engine block would be even better. "Cover your head with your hands" is a joke compared to that. I assume the theory is that in a ditch the ground on either side is even better protection, the same way that lying in a trench would be better protection from gunfire than sitting in a car would be. You could always try for the best of both worlds and drive your car into the ditch.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:41 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, I was always taught that the pressure inside a tornado is lower (i.e. open the house windows so they don't blow OUT), so if anything opening the windows should make it harder to open the door.

Not true. The maximum pressure that could be created is -- one atmosphere, 15 psi, and that's assuming that the inside of a volcano is a complete vaccum, which it won't be.

What destroys your windows, or your house, is two things -- the wind speed, and what that wind has picked up. It's not the pressure differential that destroys your house, it's the 300mph winds with the occasional tree or car carried in them that destroys your house.

Serious question: why would the answer be to get out of the car and lie in a ditch instead of say, driving like hell in the opposite direction?

If you can drive -- that is, you have enough distance and can figure out which way the storm is going, you should drive. If you can't, though, the important thing is to get out of the wind, which, in a tornado, is carrying a ton of debris.

Thus, the ditch -- so the assorted sticks, trees, cars, cows, etc. fly over your skull, not into it. This is also why hiding under a bridge is stupid -- it's a funnel for all of that debris.

Every wonder why there's that one film of people under the bridge? Most people who hide under a bridge when a tornado hits die. Don't do it, and if you must, for fuck's sake, don't block the road.

This is one of the big reasons you find yourself unable to drive away from the tornado -- because idiots have blocked the road so they can die under the bridge.
posted by eriko at 9:55 AM on May 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


Kudos - what a bunch of condescending experts some of you are!

And rolling the windows down doesn't seem so stupid to me. The male speaker does point out that they are in a glass cage. If any of the side windows get blown out by flying debris, both of them would be peppered with tempered glass fragments - which are still sharp!

As for whether rolling down all the windows would make it easier to get out of the car, we'll have to ask the Mythbusters. But they'd probably just wind up blowing up your car.
posted by etherist at 9:55 AM on May 17, 2010


A hurricane, with wind speeds half that of a decent tornado, can blow a sheet of plywood through a tree, a car provides essentially no protection from flying debris and the windows are a sharp and pointy source of same. Lying in the ditch protects you from those impacts leaving you the risk of falling debris.
posted by Mitheral at 9:58 AM on May 17, 2010


That in a tense, frightening situation his tone was a bit condescending (frankly I don't hear it) is some kind of cardinal sin that makes him a horrible person? Really?

no, not really. I don't think he's a horrible person and you'd be hard pressed to find me saying that. Maybe "condescending" was the wrong word to use - I think I agree with the person who said I'd not like to be married to either one of them.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:04 AM on May 17, 2010


*adds "was taking shelter from a tornado" to list of things to say if ever drives car into ditch*
posted by adamdschneider at 10:05 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, last spring (Good Friday, if you can believe it) a really big tornado roared through our town, destroyed 300+ homes and killed two people. I stood on the front porch of my house with the radio in one hand, eyeballing the sky in the direction it was coming from and, sure as shit, we saw it through the trees - like a big column of smoke. While behind the trees, it sort of dissipated and we lost sight of it. About a minute later it reformed and I had a clear-as-a-bell view of it. Straight out my fucking front door and beyond a tree line. Funnel cloud formed, the hose dropped to the ground, stuff started flying around the base and we stood there, watching, to see if we could figure out which direction it was moving.

After a moment or two during which it didn't seem to be moving at all, we concluded that it must be moving directly at us. I can assure you that my language was NSFW.

We rushed to the back of the house, crammed into the master bathroom and waited: me, wife, all the kids, plus three pet rats in a cage. After a few moments, I realized that the deaf-and-blind shih tzu was still merrily snoozing away in his crate, which was in the kitchen.

Like a moron, I went back out to get him. He was not pleased to be woken up. I hot-footed it back to the bathroom, holding a snarling and snapping dog at arms length while noticing that quite a bit of shit was blowing horizontally by the front of the house. Because, you know, that's how I want to die and be found - with an angry dead dog in my hands.

Dog secured, we waited in the bathroom. I had the weather radio going in one hand and another radio tuned to the local TV stations in the other. About ten minutes passed and I figured that if it was going to be on us, it would have done so by now. I left the bathroom, and went out to the front windows - the yard was covered in insulation, shingles, bits of drywall and splinters of wood. As it turned out, the tornado had swung to the north, missing our place by about a quarter-to-half-a-mile. Neighbors across the street said they could hear it; I had too much radio noise. Fifteen minutes later, the sky was completely clear. The sun came out and you never would have known anything had happened, except for all the debris on the ground.

I don't know how many storm-chasers out there have ever seen one bearing down on their own house before, but I'd wager it's not many. I could be wrong, though. For years, tornadoes were a recurring nightmare of mine. To actually see one, and not just see it, but plausibly believe that your home and family were in serious danger...well, I'm in no hurry to see another one.
posted by jquinby at 10:18 AM on May 17, 2010 [61 favorites]


Durn Bronzefist: "Re: car vs. ditch, isn't one of the major risks flying debris? I would think a car would offer some protection to this, rather than lying exposed to flying fence posts and barbed wire."

If the car becomes flying debris, that might change a bit...
posted by klanawa at 10:22 AM on May 17, 2010


Car vs. Ditch question:

I get the debris argument, but If a tornado is strong enough to pick up my car and toss it around, won't it pick me up (if I'm lying in a ditch) and do the same? Wouldn't I (average human weight) be even more likely to get picked up and tossed around all by myself, then a two ton car would be? (that's what I'd be thinking if I was in the car with that guy)

It just seems to me that the protection of the vehicle would outweigh the danger it poses. I'd rather take my chances to be tossed around inside my car than just tossed around as an exposed rag doll all over the place.

I'd probably die either way, but the shelter of the car would somehow seem much less terrifying than to be without it.
posted by NoraCharles at 10:33 AM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting, I really enjoyed this video! I apparently annoy the heck out of Mr. Adams every time we're making the trek from Michigan to Georgia to visit his dad and every time I see dark storm clouds gather over the horizon I say wistfully "Wouldn't it be cool to see a tornado?!" I've been a place hit or damaged by a tornado three times in my life, but each time I was tucked away in the basement and never saw the actual funnel, just the aftermath.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:38 AM on May 17, 2010


I don't understand why you wouldn't try to drive away. Clearly, there's a point where you can see a tornado, yet it it still sufficiently far enough away for driving away to be a viable option.

Is this a case of emergency warnings trying to be idiot-proof? As in, you don't want to give nuanced info to someone that can misconstrue it?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:42 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know how many storm-chasers out there have ever seen one bearing down on their own house before, but I'd wager it's not many.

It's interesting: growing up in tornado country, you hear about them all the time to the point where it stops seeming like a big deal, almost. We had multiple tornado warnings every summer and I can only think of once when a tornado actually hit close enough that I knew people affected. I remember hearing the sirens go off once in college while in my basementless apartment and thinking, "oh, well, I'm sure it'll be fine." It always kind of amused me when I moved to Los Angeles and longtime residents there (who had lived through the Northridge earthquake!) would tell me they couldn't understand how anyone could live in Tornado Alley.

Then a few years back, a tornado ripped through my tiny Missouri hometown and completely destroyed the grocery store thirty feet from my grandparents' front door. And my grandpa, who had spent his entire 75 years living there, stood on the front porch and watched the whole thing until my grandmother finally made him run into the bathroom at the last minute. I really do think you can become immune to the risks, because tornadoes affect such a small geographic area and the chances of being directly affected are so small.
posted by something something at 10:42 AM on May 17, 2010


You could always try for the best of both worlds and drive your car into the ditch.

Bonus points if you can flip it upside down as you put it in the ditch, that way the wind can't re-flip it. Car will be all like "Wind? Dude, I'm already flipped, you're too late, ha ha charade you are!"

assuming that the inside of a volcano is a complete vaccum

Lava is pretty fluffy, low-density stuff....

we'll have to ask the Mythbusters. But they'd probably just wind up blowing up your car.

They did a show on windows open vs closed in a hurricane recently, with the takeaway being that neither up or down had an effect on the survivability of the house, windows-closed left the inside of the house in much less of a mess.

I get the debris argument, but If a tornado is strong enough to pick up my car and toss it around, won't it pick me up

I assume part of the reason the car gets picked up into the air is because of the difference in pressure between the air flowing above the car and the air flowing in the gap below the car, and presumably your body would be actually flat to the ground, so less differential to be exploited.
posted by nomisxid at 10:42 AM on May 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


I get the debris argument, but If a tornado is strong enough to pick up my car and toss it around, won't it pick me up

I'm sure that density has something to do with it - mass of the vehicle versus the physical size of the sides making it prone to being moved by wind. The additional element of a small gap underneath allowing wind to get underneath it may also make it more prone to lift. Human's are pretty dense in that regard.

Also, the person can flatten themselves close to the ground and hang onto stuff like roots or even grass. Your car can't do that.

It does seem counterintuitive to me to get out of the car, but it makes enough sense to me that I'd be in the ditch if I didn't spot it coming early enough to nail the throttle and driver away. I do think that the 'nuanced advice' element has merit - people are likely to try and 'get past it before it gets to the road' and this kind of 'outrunning' rather than 'running away from' is rife with opportunities for arriving at the tornado at 8-mph thinking you'll just make it.

I would drive directly away from the tornado (or the nearest road to that direction) as fast as was safe and see how it went, I think. The large number of people that would (I don't doubt) still try to get where they were going would be the ones that needed to get into the ditches sooner to save them from themselves.
posted by Brockles at 10:56 AM on May 17, 2010


I would drive directly away from the tornado (or the nearest road to that direction) as fast as was safe and see how it went, I think. The large number of people that would (I don't doubt) still try to get where they were going would be the ones that needed to get into the ditches sooner to save them from themselves.

I would say the possibility of dissipation argues for this as well. Sure, it may catch you on the road ten minutes from now, but that's also ten more minutes than you have if you hunker down in place -- it may or may not be an active funnel touching the ground at that point.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:03 AM on May 17, 2010


If you've got time to run from one, you'd want to move at a right angle from its path, if you could determine the direction it's moving in. They swerve around some, but over the long run, tend to move in one general direction.

Also, in the vid, the guy takes off hauling ass once it looks like the tornado has probably passed -- and missed -- them, full-on away from it in the opposite direction. Seems like the second he realized he wouldn't be driving into it, he took off driving the correct way.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:09 AM on May 17, 2010


That's a really awesome video and I'm hoping some weather science dudes are chewing into it with the frame-by-frame analysis, because the backlighting makes the and water vapour trails in there clear as you could ever hope for. What kills me is that we don't get any sense of size because it's 2D video but as soon as it touches ground ahead of the vehicle ... way behind the tree line ... there's that OH SHIT moment where you realize it's bloody huge and moving like hell.

I lived in hurricane country for decades and I'll take them over tornadoes and earthquakes and tsunamis every damn time. I like disasters one gets a couple days of warning about. (That's a benefit of Southern Ontario, actually ... basically nothing happens here, natural-disaster-wise. Maybe a humidex warning, or an ice storm but really... whew.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:29 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Human's are pretty dense in that regard.

As in so many others.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:34 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bernoulli principle. As a fluid - air in this case - increases velocity, the pressure drops. Wind itself does a lot of damage, carrying debris and applying force to structures, but the rapid drop in pressure outside, as a tornado passes, causes the roof of a closed building to pop off - where it's carried away by the wind. We strapped the rafters and headers to the wall studs on our farm house in West Texas with steel bands. Took an almost direct hit from the tornado, and we only lost the one small part of the roof that we hadn't strapped down.

Next time you see an aerial video of a storm damaged town, note the number of roofless buildings where the walls are still standing. Of course there are a lot of them where the walls come down, but generally those still lost the roofs first, and the walls didn't have the strength to resist the wind afterwards.

The same thing can happen in a car. It's a bit like like an airfoil, and can get picked up and thrown. Get out of the car and get in a ditch. If the car is getting hit by stuff hard enough to break the glass, it's too late to get out. I wouldn't worry too much about the safety glass, either.

Guy didn't sound condescending to me. He was consoling, and his wife was hysterical. Maybe it's instinctive to speak as if you are speaking to a baby in certain situations.

OK, I think that's it. Cool video, very nice footage.
posted by Xoebe at 11:34 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seems like the second he realized he wouldn't be driving into it, he took off driving the correct way.

And you can see a bunch of other cars driving the same way.
posted by inigo2 at 11:34 AM on May 17, 2010


I propose a new rule: If you're sitting in a chair at a computer in the comfort of your home, office, or local Starbucks, you're not allowed to decide whether or not a person facing an extreme as fuck situation acted properly or not.
posted by bondcliff at 11:35 AM on May 17, 2010 [40 favorites]


A woman my mom worked with had the fun experience, during the Fort Worth tornado some years ago, of being picked up briefly whilst in her SUV and dropped back down hard enough to knock the tires off of it. Miraculously, she was only bruised. Especially since driving out of a relatively secure parking garage during a tornado is a dumb-ass thing to do.

The problem with tornadoes in TX is that if you hide in bathtubs every time one is in your area, you spend a lot of time in bathtubs for no reason, and then you get complacent, and if one does come for you, relying on past experience will make you not take precautions. As with hurricanes, actually.
posted by emjaybee at 11:42 AM on May 17, 2010


I've been exactly that close -- maybe a tad closer, really -- to a funnel cloud in formation. Turkey Run, Indiana, 15 years or so back. We were all out in the open at a canoe shed. It was quite compelling. Fortunately, it was going at a perpendicular angle to us, it never touched down, and it finally dissipated all within a minute to 90 seconds.

But we were definitely worried about ourselves and about our friends already on the water. I think there were some girls shrieking as this woman did.

I'm a veteran porch storm-watcher. I'll probably be like something something's grampa in 25 years -- standing out there until it becomes absolutely unbearable. I'd hope that the first time I saw something flying through the air I'd take cover.
posted by dhartung at 11:49 AM on May 17, 2010


FWIW, my three tornado experiences had similar preludes...the weather was appropriately hot and humid and the local weather service had issued tornado "watches." But what made each of these occasions different was the overall look of the sky in the two or less hours preceding the storm. There were very dark storm clouds on the horizon, but there was also a very definite line of deep aqua color behind the lowest clouds. About 30 minutes before the storm hit, the entire sky had a definite orange-ish hue to it - on two of the occasions it was noticeable enough that I quoted the Cars to those standing near me, singing aloud "it's an orange-y sky." In each instance, it had been very humid that day, and once the outdoors took on that orange hue it seemed like all the birds stopped their usual raucous chirping and screeching. It was eerily silent and still for maybe 20 minutes, then the temperature started to drop quickly and the trees started blowing back and forth and thunder could be heard in the distance. Unlike a typical thunderstorm, there was no visible lightning, just first distant thunder then minutes later thunder so loud it caused the windows to vibrate. When the rain finally came, it was torrential and peppered with huge hail stones. It sounded like the roof was being pelted with rocks, and then we heard the tornado sirens and retreated to the basement.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:54 AM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


if that were me in the car, every word from me would be NSFW. I'm afraid the suggestion that I lie in a ditch would be met by my screaming like a lunatic.
posted by angrycat at 12:11 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm afraid the suggestion that I lie in a ditch would be met by my screaming like a lunatic.

*driving past cemetery*

Thank god! We can lie in those graves!
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:26 PM on May 17, 2010


"If you're sitting in a chair at a computer in the comfort of your home, office, or local Starbucks, you're not allowed to decide whether or not a person facing an extreme as fuck situation acted properly or not."

They only way to learn what to do during extreme situations is to study them while you are calm. I see some twit running into a burning building to save his chesterfield I'm going to decide he acted improperly whether I see it on YouTube or whilst I'm passing him on the way out of the building.
posted by Mitheral at 12:36 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I get the debris argument, but If a tornado is strong enough to pick up my car and toss it around, won't it pick me up (if I'm lying in a ditch) and do the same?

Maybe, but odds are no. The surface area of a car is much larger, thus, more force. More importantly, air flow (read, wind) decreases when you get closer to the surface -- ever notice how dust collects on fan blades? You'd think the induced wind would prevent that, but the boundary layer effect drops the windspeed just off the fan blade to almost nothing.

So, you, flat on the ground in a ditch presents vastly less surface area to a lower wind speed, and the debris picked up by you is more likely to fly over you (since you're below grade.) The car is seeing high wind speeds, show more surface area, and will be pummled by the debris being carried by the wind.

It's a bad bet. If you're that close, head for the ditch. Ideally, never be that close.
posted by eriko at 1:52 PM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Cars vs Ditch Argument: Why not have both? At the slightest hint of a tornado, I drive my car into the nearest ditch. Better safe than sorry.
posted by Crash at 2:12 PM on May 17, 2010


This might never happen if you drove on the left in North America.

When two cars pass in opposite directions on a road, the opposing wakes of air set up rotating eddies that rotate in the same direction as a twister in the northern Hemisphere thus triggering tornadoes: Air flowing into a low pressure zone deflects to the right,(geostrophic force) thus the anti clockwise rotation looking down from above at a whirlpool or twister.

In a well ordered society we drive on left.
posted by marvin at 4:58 PM on May 17, 2010


marvin: In a well ordered society we drive on left.

That's only if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, of course. The Australians and South Africans are just as bad.
posted by ErWenn at 5:26 PM on May 17, 2010


rtha: "Cow...

Twister is hands-down one of my all-time favorite terrible movies. I should just buy it already.
"

"Ha Ha! It's the wonder of nature, baby!"
posted by bwg at 5:41 PM on May 17, 2010


Twister is hands-down one of my all-time favorite terrible movies.

The best part is Cary Elwes as the evil storm chaser who totally forgot the roots of storm-chasing and sold out to Big Corporate Storm Chase. Also all their cars are black, just in case you were too fucking dumb to notice they were evil. They forgot to give him a mustache to twirl, though.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:28 PM on May 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


I gotta go, we got cows.
posted by Peach at 6:54 PM on May 17, 2010



posted by Peach at 6:55 PM on May 17, 2010


That's what you call a designer tornado. We have real ones here in Arkansas.
posted by thisisdrew at 7:28 PM on May 17, 2010


This deserves a repost of the Train Driving Into a Tornado clip, which demonstrates just how rapidly things can go from, "My what a lovely sunny day" to, "Wow, why is there so much rain!" to "Oh crap, the trees are all gone!"
posted by MysteriousMan at 10:24 PM on May 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


I have a vague recollection of an early elementary school field trip to a zoo not too far from my hometown in North Alabama (not a full-fledged one; more of a petting zoo) where we saw a lynx or a bobcat (I think it must have been this place). Afterward, on our way back to my hometown, the sky suddenly got dark and turned a strange color. Our bus stopped, and we all ran to get into a ditch a ways away from the bus. I seem to recall that none of us needed to be told that getting into a ditch was the safe thing to do. We all knew already.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:39 PM on May 17, 2010


One of my co-workers went to Ohio to look at some property he'd inherited, his first trip to the mid-West. While he was there, a tornado whipped through town, right down the street that his new house was on. He said he stood in the doorway and watched it smash every third house on the street, with no idea of what he should do. The house across the street was destroyed, and his was untouched.

My mother told us that our great-uncle was picked up and flung a hundred feet by a small tornado in Wisconsin. He was stripped naked, completely bruised, and covered with mud, but survived.

I thought the guy in the video handled it pretty well. I'd like to have him around in an emergency.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:24 PM on May 17, 2010


It didn't strike me as condescending to calmly explain to a panicked, temporarily witless person that staying in a box with glass walls during a tornado is a very bad idea.
posted by Aquaman at 9:03 AM on May 18, 2010


Also, I was always taught that the pressure inside a tornado is lower (i.e. open the house windows so they don't blow OUT), so if anything opening the windows should make it harder to open the door.

That was the conventional wisdom for years until they discovered it made absolutely no difference whether the windows were open or closed. Better to leave them closed than to have the wind blow debris into the house

There was also the idea that you should go into the SW corner of the house, because then the tornado would blow OVER you (since most came from the SW) and you wouldn't get crushed by the debris. In the late 70s, after a few people died from that advice, they moved to the "interior room" advice, which works well for everything but the classical F5s. For example, the Jarrell tornado that killed 27 -- with no basements, they hid in their bathrooms, which gave them no protection against a funnel so powerful it was ripping asphalt off roads.

Why no basements? Most of Oklahoma and Texas have clay soils, so they're prone to settling, especially during droughts (which tend to happen every 20 years or so). The likelihood of a cracked foundation is higher with a basement than a slab foundation on a clay soil.

As for cars, keep in mind we're talking about 200-350mph winds here. Small cars get blown over in cross winds in the Rocky Mountains, and that's 90-100mph gusts we're talking about. What makes you think a car would be able to handle 200+ mph? And even if it did, you'd have the combined problem of flying glass (even if it's safety glass) and the sandpaper like consistency of the debris in a tornado (on top of wood, insulation, and tree branches). Getting low to the ground is a far better idea.

In Twister, they don't hide under a bridge but in a culvert, which would provide some protection. It's the sheltering under overpasses that are the problem -- a couple people died in the Moore tornado after sheltering under an overpass.

And yes, Twister is pretty damn terrible, but it was a huge hit in Oklahoma. And thus the old line about when the tornado sirens blow everyone runs inside, but Oklahomans come right back out with the video camera.
posted by dw at 10:21 AM on May 18, 2010


My mother told us that our great-uncle was picked up and flung a hundred feet by a small tornado in Wisconsin. He was stripped naked, completely bruised, and covered with mud, but survived.

This is a great excuse. "Uh, honey, the reason I'm naked and covered in mud? TORNADO."
posted by norm at 10:30 AM on May 18, 2010


WB did a pre-release screening of Twister for SGI employees because SGI lended a few million dollars worth of equipment to one of the special effects companies doing effects and props for the movie (you might recall the computers shown in Twister were SGIs, including the fake SGI laptops). A plushy newly opened local theater was rented, a generous spread of food was laid out, PR flacks spent much time on gushing into microphones and at last the house lights dimmed and the movie began.

Overall, the reception was very enthusiastic. While the effects look dated now, in 1996 they were state of the art and much cheering ensued during every tornado scene and hey, free food, movie tickets and an afternoon out of the office. However, the parts between the effects...let's just say that as endearing as Bill Paxton can be, he does have noticeable limits in his acting ability. And Cary Elwes was channeling Snidely Whiplash and mangling whatever regional accent he was attempting. And Jami Gertz, in her role as a bathmat. It was the last one that started getting uncomfortable: Gertz's character was a doctor of some sort, I don't recall what kind, but an educated self-made woman and her character spent all of her screen time acting like a painfully irritating twit. So we get to that scene where the Good StormChasers pull up into a small town and Bill (Bill) says to Melissa (Jami), "Honey, I'm going to hang out here and get some air. Why don't you go get us some cold drinks." and she twitters "OK sweetheart," and exits scene.

And from the audience, some grumbling and then a voice (from someone who will forever remain unidentified but was known to all as a Woman Nobody Messes With) shouts out loud and proud, "Girl, it's the 90s! Let him get his own goddamn cold drink!"

Audience howling, whatever happened for the next 5 minutes on screen was ignored. A quick glance over at the execs row showed all of them stiff-faced with PR flacks from both sides fluttering into damage control mode. Then the peanut gallery cheered when Melissa finally had had enough and left the movie entirely.
posted by jamaro at 1:05 PM on May 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


As someone who was recently in a car accident, I can assure you that safety glass can and will embed in your skin, albeit in very small particles in my case.

Once I was at a friend's (ground floor) apartment. A tornado warning was issued. She decided to go to her dad's who had a basement. She said I couldn't come. But she wouldn't let me stay in her apartment either. Yeah, she forced me to drive on flooding roads in a town in which the power was out to all the stores and houses. We're not friends anymore. Oh, and the tornado never hit that area.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:27 PM on May 18, 2010


I'm from earthquake country and moved to tornado country about ten years ago. The idea of tornadoes scared the wits out of me, since I'd never experienced the kind of thunderstorms the Midwest produces. Two years after we moved there, Kansas City was hit by nine tornadoes in one day. I was working at Starbucks and went outside to check the storm. Got hit by a huge piece of hail as it started to fall, ran back inside and started pulling customers into the (windowless) bathrooms to wait it out. A police officer arrived and started herding other people from the parking lot into our store since he knew we had a place where they could sit in relative safety. Being claustrophobic, I decided to wait in the main café (yes, a glass box basically) and watch.

What I saw was two tornadoes touch down at the same time. One was east of us and one was north, each of them were about a mile to a mile and a half away (I figured this out later from the damage reports). One was a vast wall of black cloud and it was hard to tell that it was moving. The other was more of a funnel and was speeding parallel to me so I could see it travelling away from us. I stood there gaping for looong minutes before it occurred to me that they could shift direction at any moment and I really didn't want to be standing there when the glass broke.

Later on when I told my husband about what I saw, he let me know that most people don't ever see a tornado touch down, let alone two at the same time. And tornado watches were actually a bit less scary after that - I was no longer facing the unknown.

We've since moved back to earthquake country and my husband finally experienced a rollercoaster of a 5.0 earthquake this past Easter Sunday in Long Beach. As we drove out of town after the party, he pointed to a new building and said "Remember that place? It used to be a grocery store." I thought for a moment, and then remembered "Oh yeah, it was hit by a tornado the week we met."

Southern California has had over 300 tornado strikes in the last 130 years, but they're usually very weak compared to the tornadoes of the Great Plains. I hadn't remembered that the day I went to pick him up at the airport for his first California visit I had to detour around tornado wreckage.
posted by annathea at 3:23 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I get the debris argument, but If a tornado is strong enough to pick up my car and toss it around, won't it pick me up (if I'm lying in a ditch) and do the same? Wouldn't I (average human weight) be even more likely to get picked up and tossed around all by myself, then a two ton car would be? (that's what I'd be thinking if I was in the car with that guy)

The wind can get under the car. It can't get under you. (Or, if it's strong enough to do so, you were screwed either way.) If you are in a car, you are a target for flying debris. If you are in a ditch, you have an earthen berm to protect you.

And tornado watches were actually a bit less scary after that - I was no longer facing the unknown.

Exactly. Tornados are scary and destructive, but really, really small. They are almost an odds game. They almost never happen, and they are almost never terribly destructive. And even when they are, sometimes its a matter of being a few hundred feet in one direction or another.
posted by gjc at 7:30 AM on May 19, 2010


When my father was a kid in rural Indiana he went over to a friend's house for dinner and a storm blew up. The family sat down in the dining room as the storm got fiercer outside. At one point the father remarked that it was "getting pretty rough out there" and then the lights went out. One of the kids said, "there's some candles in the living room" and hopped up to fetch them. When he opened the living room door they realized that there no longer was a living room. The pictures on the remaining wall were not even crooked.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:52 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


In 1985, when I was 14, a cell of tornadoes tore through the area where I lived. The one that literally (and yes, I'm using that correctly) went through our back yard was classed as an F5.

We were luckily not home at the time - but we were close enough to one of the tornadoes to lose power at the restaurant where we were having dinner, and hear what sounded like a freight train. Before heading home, we stopped to see some friends, and jokingly called our house - the phone rang, so we figured it was still standing. For weeks after the tornado, you could call a house you knew was gone, and get a ring.

Our house was in a development at the top of a hill, about a mile up from the main road. We got to the base of the hill, and couldn't drive any further. We walked up the hill, skirting downed trees and live power lines, seeing smashed houses, destroyed cars, and hoping that our house (that we'd moved into 6 weeks earlier, after my mom married my step-dad and we all moved into his house) was still there. We got to the development and walking around the bend of the road, all we saw was devastation. Every house was gone. Every tree was gone. Just - gone. It was dark, and still, and everything was gone.

We went further down the road toward our house and - miracle - our house was standing! Broken windows, some roof damage, the lock was blown out of the front door (which was still closed) and the siding was peeled off of the back of the house. The destruction in the back yard was remarkable - at least ten 75+ foot oak trees criss-crossed across each other, but not one hit the house. The shed was smashed, and there was a board shoved THROUGH the engine of the riding mower. It turns out that our house and one other house on our side of the street were the only ones left standing and relatively habitable. Luckily, no one on our road was killed or seriously injured.

We weren't officially evacuated because no one thought anyone was left up there. We were without power for weeks. We had to chase off looters who would come through the woods in the back of the development. I will never, ever forget the smell of fresh oak being split - that vinegary odor permeated everything as my step-dad and as many family and friends who could help cleaned out our lot, before the Army Corps of Engineers came in to remove stumps and root balls that had left 5-foot-deep holes in the ground.

In the end, over 80 people were killed, and over 1000 injured. The dead included a newly-wed from my church, who was driving a couple of kids home from Little League. He couldn't outrun the tornado in his car, so he got down in a ditch, laid on top of the kids, and saved their lives. His car was completely destroyed.

My family refers to everything that happened that day, and the aftermath, simply as "The Tornado". We got good at watching for the green, oppressive sky that signaled a potential tornado, and spending time in the basement. And always leaving the windows open just a crack.

Now I live in earthquake country. I'll take a tornado over an earthquake any day. At least there's a chance of a warning with a tornado.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 2:20 PM on May 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


I grew up in Kansas where we used to laugh at people stupid enough to go outside and look at the tornado rather than going to their basement - if they had one. Of course at the same time everyone understood how hard it was to stay down there and NOT look. And everyone had the same fear that they'd be hit dead on and go back upstairs to see the rest of the house had vanished - we'd all seen what that looked like on television thanks to local news replaying their archived footage. Once we were driving on the highway in western Kansas once and saw funnel shaped clouds dipping down towards us - luckily they didn't touch down near us because there was nowhere to take shelter. But we'd always been lucky and storms always missed where we lived.

I remember when I first moved to Alabama that I was totally stunned to discover they had tornadoes too (I thought the midwest had a monopoly on em) - and that few people had basements. Or Tornado Plans - in Kansas everyone had a "safe place" and a plan with family members (so you'd know where they'd go for safety if you were separated by work or school). In Alabama they didn't even have warning sirens for tornado sightings. (Sounds like an air raid siren - and it gets your attention.) Which all seemed really odd to me after all the seriousness towards the storms in Kansas. After having two Alabama tornadoes hit only a few miles from my apartment where I was huddled in a tiny bathroom (only sturdy place) wearing a construction helmet (a joke gift suddenly useful) and holding the cat, listening to that infamous Tornado Noise (yes, it does sound like a train engine!) that I'd never heard up close that way - well, I was relieved to move away from that form of weather. (Of course then I got to evacuate out of the way of two hurricanes, and then later various wildfires. Ah nature, I'll never get used to you...)
posted by batgrlHG at 10:43 PM on May 21, 2010


"Southern California has had over 300 tornado strikes in the last 130 years"

Oh crap - they're here too???? I thought I'd finally escaped them!
posted by batgrlHG at 10:47 PM on May 21, 2010


Cow...

Another cow.
posted by scalefree at 2:43 PM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


And here's another one in southeast Colorado on Memorial Day, Monday, May 31, 2010.
posted by unliteral at 9:10 PM on June 1, 2010


On 9 April 1999, a killer tornado hit Cincinnati. I saw and heard it from my dining room window. It uprooted a 75+ year old tree in a neighbor’s backyard and flipped it over like it weighed nothing. It sounded like a freight train was passing right by our house.

It really looked like a lighter version of the smoke monster as it passed over and through the woods behind our homes. Eleven days later another disaster hit the midwest.
posted by vkxmai at 6:35 PM on June 2, 2010


Not to be terribly pedantic, but I don't think Colorado qualifies as "Midwest".
posted by norm at 11:22 AM on June 3, 2010


« Older In the debut of The New York Times' new philosophy...  |  A Six Mile Inquiry... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments