Should You Drive During a Tornado?: Misconceptions About Storm Safety

VIDEO: Oklahoma Tornadoes Devastate Residents
ABCNEWS.com

The barrage of tornadoes that touched down in the Oklahoma City area Friday night took the lives of nine people, seven of whom were found dead in their cars.

While it remains unclear as to why many of those killed were on the road when the devastating storms pummeled the region, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett told ABC News that the number of vehicles on the road was "unusual."

"The worst place you can be in a tornado is in your car," Cornett said. "You get in your car, almost anything can happen."

Cornett said residents were told two to three days before the storm hit that Friday night was "a high risk opportunity." It was surprising that despite established tornado precautions, people still got in their cars and took off when the storm barreled through, he said.

"We don't need people in their cars during a high risk storm like that," he said. "It clogged up the interstate, it impeded emergency vehicles, and created a much more dangerous situation than it needed to be."

Severe weather may prove to be more dangerous unless people recognize the myths about how to evade it. Click through to see unsafe storm tactics, debunked.

PHOTO: Myth #1: You Can Dodge an Oncoming Tornado in Your Car
Getty Images
Myth: You Can Avoid an Oncoming Tornado in Your Car

While the natural inclination may be to flee when a storm's destruction is imminent, getting in your car at the last minute to dodge Mother Nature puts people's lives at risk.

"[In a tornado] People are generally better off where they are," Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornet said.

Cornett said one of the things officials will review is why people were on the road in such high numbers Friday evening when the storms landed in the Oklahoma City area.

Too often people decide they are able to outrun a tornado in their car, but automotive expert and former race car driver Lauren Fix strongly advised against it.

"Tornadoes change direction without any notice and you don't know what the road in front of you is going to look like," Fix said. "There could be debris. You could have a roadway that's blocked. Where are you going to go?

"If you see a tornado, find shelter immediately," she said. "Your car is a 4,000-pound toy and it can be tossed at anywhere, anytime."

PHOTO: A car drives through flooded streets near the Wimmera River, on January 17, 2011 in Horsham, Australia.
Richard Kendall/Getty Images
Myth: You Can Drive Through a Flooded Roadway

Despite the misconception that driving through floodwaters could provide an escape route in a storm, more than half of all flood-related drowning occurs when a vehicle is driven into hazardous waters, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Weather Service.

All it takes is two feet of rushing water before your vehicle -- including SUVs and pickup trucks -- can get carried away by the flood currents, according to the National Weather Service emergency preparedness guide.

"If it's flooded roadways from a river, a creek, or a lake, you do not want to drive through it because anything that's even a foot deep of water, which is not much at all, can cause your vehicle to float," Fix said.

But if you're driving when water hits, ABC News' Sam Champion said to take safety precautions before advancing further.

"Slow down and make a good, solid judgment about where the water's coming from. How much water do I think it is before I pursue," he said.

PHOTO: A tornado is seen from a car's rear window.
Getty Images
Myth: Overpasses are Safe Havens

Highway overpasses should not be considered secure zones in a tornado.

"It's very tempting for people to see this as an area to take shelter, but it's the very worst place," said Peggy Willenburg, one half of the storm chasing duo Twister Sisters.

In fact, overpasses act like wind tunnels that accelerate the flow of the storm, said Harold Brooks, a research meteorologist with the NOAA's Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla.

"If you could imagine, say, taking a garden hose and putting your thumb over it, the water gets a lot stronger going out through that small opening," Brooks said. "And that's essentially what the tornado does going through that little area of the overpass."

So, what do you do if you're riding in your car and a tornado is coming right at you? Experts say to get away from the car and find a ditch or a gully. Once there, lie down as low as you can.

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