WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Why is it safer to be in a ditch than a car when a tornado is passing? Seems as though a person weighs less and would get picked up easier? Thanks in advance.

Posted May 24, 2008

MIKE MOSS SAYS:      John,     This should all be taken in the sense that we're talking about relative safety on average. Being in a car in a strong or violent tornado or being in a ditch in a strong or violent tornado are both bad places to be. While some debate continues, most safety experts advise that the lesser of two eveils in that situation is being in a ditch or other terrain depression. This places you in a location where the strongest winds are passing overhead and thus are unlikely to pick you up or blow you along (assuming you are flat on the ground and there is ground that is higher than you to either side). It also places you out of the direct path of loose objects that the tornado has effectively tuned into missiles, as they will ideally pass over top of you. Cars on the other hand are open to being flipped, rolled, crashed into other cars and so on, with potentially injurious or deadly results. Again, it is possible to be seriously injured in either place, or to get by without a scratch in either, but consensus among safety officials favors the the ditch/hole/depression as somewhat better odds.

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