Psychology can play a role in surviving a major tornado
A tornado warning can give you time to take cover, but there are also mental strategies you can use to help you survive.Posted — Updated
What you do in the seconds after a tornado warning -- especially when the tornado is as strong as the one that killed more than 20 people in Alabama -- can often be the difference between life and death.
And it starts with a mind game.
"These intense tornadoes -- EF2s, 3s and stronger -- sometimes there's just nothing you can do, they are just so powerful," said Nick Petro, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Raleigh.
And if you are faced with a warning, there's more to your response than knowing where to go next and having a safety plan. There's actually some psychology to it.
"There's a social psychology bias called third-person bias," said NC State psychology professor Chris Mayhorn. "Just like everybody thinks they're a great driver, no one will admit to being a bad driver, it's always the other people -- they tend to place that emphasis on, 'Maybe it's going to be somebody else and not me who is in danger.'"
That belief can cost you precious seconds when you are dealing with a serious situation. Knowing enough to disregard that belief could help you move faster if the time comes; that is not the time for second-guessing.
Psychologists say your reaction time can also be affected by life experience.
"One thing I've studied in the past is having been in the path of a hazard before," Mayhorn said. "If you have encountered hurricanes in the past and know how dangerous they can be, you're gonna be more likely to comply with that warning."
Weather experts say major tornadoes can be survivable even without a basement or storm shelter, but there's very little room for error.
"What tends to kill people in tornadoes is flying debris and the damage, walls coming down, items falling on a person,"Preto said. "So you want to get down in your shelter and protect your head from falling debris."
Think about it.
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