|Click on the tornado above to watch a massive tornado pass close to a prison outside Hoover, Texas on June 8, 1995. Footage supplied by Storm Stock, with thanks to its founder Martin Lisius. You need RealPlayer to play the video. Click here to download it free.|
You can see from this videoclip that had the tornado struck the prison, it would have destroyed it, or at least caused very severe damage. Again, obtaining a true understanding of the magnitude of an F-5 tornado is extremely difficult in any way except for directly experiencing one -- although this is one case where gaining direct experiential knowledge could easily be fatal.
A clip like this might lead you to rethink the things you've heard about what to do in the event of a tornado. After all, it seems unlikely that the prisoners would have been safe anywhere in that structure, had the tornado hit the buildings. This kind of re-thinking what you knew before is very positive, as it means you are starting to integrate different ways of knowing to create an understanding that is much more powerful and responsive than simply knowing one or two "safety tips." That's the kind of understanding that can save your life in a severe storm.
Before we pursue integrated knowing farther, though, let's look at some other images that explore the benefits and limitations of experiential knowing more fully, as it applies to tornadoes and trying to survive them.
|Not all experiential data are reliable. Click on the picture for more information.|
Because images are so powerful, we tend to believe them. The old adage "seeing is believing" is based on the impact experiential learning has on our overall understanding of things. However, no one kind of learning is sufficient in and of itself to lead to complete understanding, and when we forget that it can lead to tragedy.
The picture to the left shows a woman and her child huddled beneath a highway overpass for safety as they watch a tornado some distance away. It may call to mind famous video footage you have seen of people sheltering from a tornado beneath an overpass on the Kansas Turnpike in 1991. These images are so powerful that they have deeply altered the public's understanding of tornadoes and how to survive them -- in a very detrimental way! There were many, many people who sought shelter under highway overpasses during the tornado outbreak in Oklahoma on May 3, 1999. During the course of the outbreak, tornadoes crossed interstate highways at seven locations. At three of those seven locations where a tornado crossed an interstate highway, it crossed at the location of an overpass. A fatality occurred at ALL three places where overpasses were struck directly, and there were many other serious, life threatening, gruesome injuries.
Remember the debris that a tornado throws with its high winds? The Pampa, TX tornado photograph at the top of the page can remind you; those larger objects are airborne vehicles, and the smaller items are ripped-apart sheet metal and lumber. Large amounts of flying debris, such as the one in the Pampa, TX photograph, are common in strong and violent tornadoes (those rated F2 or higher).
The photograph below is one of the overpasses that took a direct hit from the Oklahoma City tornado. One person died here, huddled at the top of the embankment to your left as you look at the picture. The light circle highlights a large piece of sheet metal that the tornado winds embedded in the the concrete overpass support, roughly at the same level above ground where the people were sitting. This is only one piece in a cloud of flying debris that accompanied the tornado winds. These winds, which were in excess of 200 miles per hour, hurled large amounts of flying debris, literally like missiles at those very high wind speeds, beneath the overpass at the people crouching under the bridge - it killed one of them and seriously injured the others. In addition to the threat from flying debris, wind speeds are also higher at the bridge level. The lowest wind speeds in a tornado are directly at ground level, which is why it is generally safest to get as low as possible. A highway overpass is up at the top of an embankment, so wind speeds are higher there than on the ground or in the ditch at the same location.
|This photograph shows a large piece of metal wrapped around the top of the support column. Click on the picture for more information.|
|The innermost room on the ground floor of a well-constructed house survived the OKC storm. Click on the picture for more information.|
Some people in Oklahoma City were so certain that a highway overpass was a safe place of refuge, because they had seen images such as the one of the woman and her children on this page, that they left their homes and drove to a nearby overpass to seek shelter from the tornado, seriously endangering themselves and others. Many people who remained in their homes in the same neighborhood survived the same storm, sometimes uninjured. The photo to the right shows you an innermost room on a ground floor of an otherwise demolished home. Seven people walked out of it alive, after the Oklahoma City tornado. The reason severe storm experts advise you to go to an innermost room like this is because of the flying debris that we keep mentioning; this wind-driven debris rips away the outermost walls of a structure as the tornado approaches, and the more walls there are between you and the debris, the more likely it is that some walls will be left standing to protect you from it by the time the tornado moves on.
Now you have conflicting experiential evidence about what's safe. The enormous tornado that threated the Hoover area in the second videoclip certainly looked like something it would be best to get away from in any way possible. Yet people who went into an inner room in their houses during the Oklahoma City storms survived better than those who drove to overpasses they thought might be safer. Those motorists also caused traffic jams that posed additional, terrifying dangers to others, sometimes blocking highways so thoroughly that even emergency personnel were trapped in their vehicles, unable to help others or themselves. Any one kind of knowing is not enough to base a decision on.
To read the National Weather Service report on the inadvisability of seeking shelter from severe storms under a highway overpass, check out Highway Overpasses as Tornado Shelters: Fallout From the 3 May 1999 Oklahoma/Kansas Violent Tornado Outbreak.
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