Getting a Ride From a Tornado

January 29, 2016
Tornado in a Field

It’s nice to get a lift—but for two students in Oregon, it got pretty scary! They were in the parking lot at Lane Community College when a tornado hit.

It tossed around some cars and then sucked up the Jeep they were in. They were lifted about 5 feet in the air and then—thankfully—dropped. Aside from the scare of their lives, neither student was hurt. Another car next to them was dropped on its roof and flattened and a blue Toyota Corolla was tossed on top of a red Durango SUV. Several people took cell phone pictures of the event but, not surprisingly, the two students were distracted.

Tornadoes vs. cars. It’s not a fair fight. Source: NOAA

One of the students, Ryan Janecek was later quoted by KMTR, a Eugene Oregon news station. “It lifted the back end a good five to eight feet, It sounded like a leaf blower right next to you. The wind was just so fast, so powerful … It just picked you up. I don't know how you describe that—it's like a roller coaster ride almost.” Some roller coaster!

What do you do when a tornado is coming towards your car? Source: FEMA

The two students were unbelievably lucky. Cars are notorious death traps in tornadoes, even trailers are better. A strong tornado can fling a vehicle hundreds of yards and wrap them like pretzels around trees. Experts advise taking shelter in a building or, if the storm is visible and far away, drive at right angles and get out of the way. Overpasses offer no extra protection and have proved to be deadly in tornadoes! If you can’t drive away or find a building, lie flat in a low spot, as far from the road as possible. NOAA advises, “If caught in a car when a tornado hits, remain belted in, and crouch as low as possible away from windows and windshield. Survival is not guaranteed.”

Gulp!

 In some ways, however, the students were incredibly unlucky, too. Tornadoes are relatively rare in Oregon, only two or three a year. Historically, the few tornadoes that do arrive come later in the year. It’s hard to find a more unusual way to get your car wrecked.

After the incident, the tornado faded away. The last cell phone pictures show a beautiful rainbow arching through the sky.

About This Blog

The column, “Weather Whispers,” is authored by James Garriss and Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologists and weather addicts!  Whether you enjoy the science of weather or the fascinating folklore or just fun weather phenomena, it’s probably covered by these weather watchers!

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