Tornado Safety While Out and About

In Grocery Store, Shopping Center, Auditorium, Stadium, or Golf Course

This can be addressed by asking some questions first:

As an adult or teenager, who is ultimately responsible for your safety?
You are. Not the grocery store produce manager, not the department store associate, and not the mall security guard. Just you.

Do the Tornado Watch areas that the SPC (the Storm Prediction Center) issues always have a tornado?
No. But it means that conditions are favorable for tornadoes to develop. If you are under Tornado Watch it is time to turn on your radio or television set and stay alert for the weather developments. Television stations compete for your viewing time, and vie with one another to be the most accurate and current. It might seem like the number and frequency of Tornado Watches is over-kill, but it preferable to having no idea there is a possible tornadic situation. When a killer tornado goes through a town, the news afterward is often full of people whining that they had no idea there was the possibility of a tornado, as if someone else was responsible for their safety. Don’t be one of them. Be aware and be safe.

Does being under a Tornado Watch mean that you must stay home and stay glued to the television weather?
Not necessarily. It does mean that you should be extra cautious if you will be away from home, provided your home has a safe place to shelter. It is not the day to go fishing or camping. Not the day for golf or the beach. Check the television or radio weather the night before or the morning you will be going out. Plan your errands with this in mind, and while in the car keep your radio tuned to a station that will break into the music feed to provide up-to-the-minute weather conditions. Errands away from home should be to places you know well, along routes you know well so that you can take advantage of safe shelters in the event a tornado warning is issued.

Do the employees of the places you go on errands know where to direct you during a tornado warning?
Not necessarily. Some companies are very responsible and make sure there are safe places to shelter for both their employees and customers, or because of the kind of business coincidentally have a safe places to shelter. Some companies have been known to lock customers in their building during a tornado emergency. Other companies have been known to lock customers out of their building during a tornado emergency. Some businesses simply have no truly safe place, and the employees direct the customers to the safest place available and hope for the best. If you live in Tornado Alley, you might inquire of the store owner or manager what their policy is, and where the safest store location is. Even if they have no good answer, you have given them something to think about, and that is a good thing.

So you are away from home. Where is the best place to shelter if you hear that the Tornado Watch has been turned into a Tornado Warning?

  1. An interior room on the lowest floor of the building. A bathroom, closet, office, or maintainance room with short walls would be the safest area, especially if it was on the north or east side of the building.
  2. Avoid the open areas of buildings with wide-span roofs such as grocery stores, gyms, auditoriums and theaters. Deaths have occurred in large, single story department stores, like the Joplin, Missouri Walmart in May, 2011.
  3. If available, the walk-in refrigerator of a fast food place or cold room or walk-in of a grocery store is a good choice.

A nightmare scenario is a tornado striking an athletic event in a packed gym, ball field, stadium, racetrack, fairground or some other outdoor event. Fortunately, these events are often cancelled or postponed when extreme weather is predicted.

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