As we enter late spring and start facing the risk of increasingly violent storms, notably tornadoes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have released a statement clarifying the proper response to an approaching twister.
The Mother Nature Network explains that the tornado season varies by region, though it “tends to move northward from late winter to mid-summer.” Those regions that have disproportionately higher tornado occurrences are Florida and the infamous Tornado Alley. Tornado Alley comprises the strip of land running from north Texas through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, eastern Colorado, southwest South Dakota, and southern Minnesota.
The CDC statement comes after a January University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Injury Control Research Center commentary which suggested that helmets are “an essential addition to an individual’s tornado-safety preparations.” The UAB report explains that any kind of safety helmet, including hard hats, bike, or football helmets, offer an important additional measure of protection during these storms.
According to Scott Crawford, MPH, who is the commentary’s lead author, head injuries are a major cause of tornado-related deaths in the U.S. The UAB cites the 21 fatalities that resulted from the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak in Alabama. According to the Jefferson County medical examiner, at least 11 of those fatalities resulted from head or neck injuries.
However, the CDC explains that looking for a helmet in the moments before a tornado strike can actually put individuals at a greater risk of injury or death by delaying them from finding adequate shelter. Although the CDC stands by their recommendations for people to protect their heads during these storms, they also explain that nothing should come before the primary goal: finding a safe place to ride out the storm.
The CDC recommends finding a shelter or tornado-safe room, such as a basement. If a heavy table, workbench, or other sturdy piece of furniture is present, individuals are encouraged to get under it. If stranded outdoors when a tornado hits, they recommend lying down in a ditch or gully.
Although the CDC recognizes the value of head protection in the event of a tornado, they explain that people choosing to use a helmet should know where it is located and have it readily available. Nothing should come before finding a safe place to seek shelter.
Furthermore, the CDC notes that “these helmets should not be considered an alternative to seeking appropriate shelter.” Rather, helmets should be part of a family’s total tornado emergency plan.
For more CDC recommendations on how to stay safe this tornado season, visit their Emergency Preparedness and Response page.