Sunday, March 30, 2014

How to survive a tornado when day hiking with children

Photo courtesy of NOAA.
Sometime weather can change quite dramatically within a few minutes, and if day hiking, this can catch you by surprise, especially if you are deep into the trail. With spring’s arrival, one such weather phenomena that can strike with deadly force is a tornado.

Should you see bad weather approaching, skip the hike and head for home. If already on the hike, forget reaching the destination and instead return to your vehicle.

But what if you are driving for home or still heading for the vehicle and you spot a tornado?

You generally can tell which direction the tornado is heading so that you don’t drive toward it. Always go in the opposite direction of it at a right angle – that is, if it’s moving to your left, you should go to the right. Don’t turn around and try to outrun it. That just keeps you in the line of danger, and the tornado probably is moving faster than you will be able to.

If a tornado appears to be standing still, that means you’re in its path. If driving, get out of your vehicle and seek cover.

If still on the hiking trail, regardless of which way the tornado is going, always seek cover.

When outdoors, the best way to protect yourself from a tornado includes:
g Lay in a depression – Rather than hike to the lowest elevation, look for dips, ditches, and ravines you can lay face down in. If a building can be reached within a few seconds, enter it and go into it basement, a bathtub that’s firmly affixed to the floor, or an interior closet. In the absence of this, crouching behind a large boulder on the side protecting you from the wind is better than being out in the open.
g Cover your eyes and head – Don’t try to watch or take pictures of the tornado. That only exposes you and the most vulnerable parts of your body. Instead, lock your fingers around your head. If you have some kind of padding, place it over your head.
g Lock arms – This increases the “weight” of you individually, decreasing the chances of you being blown away or turned over.
g Stay together – If you separate, you can’t control any children should they panic and make bad decisions. You also face the anxiety of searching for one another once the storm passes.

Some shelter actually is quite dangerous to be in during a tornado:
g Highway or bridge underpasses – These areas act as wind tunnels. There also is the chance of them collapsing on you.
g Tents – Tornadoes easily will knock down these makeshift structures, which provide little protection against wind-blown objects. Should the tornado pick up a tent, you’ll go with it.
g Vehicles – Tornadic winds can tip over and pick up a vehicle. Flying debris can shatter the glass, spraying it across those inside.

Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.