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As Gaylord toll is counted, expert has tornado advice for Michiganders

Experts on tornado safety in Michigan
Experts on tornado safety in Michigan
Published: May. 22, 2022 at 6:22 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - It was a harrowing 20 minutes that changed the lives of community members in Gaylord forever.

Two have been confirmed killed after a tornado tore through the town, 44 were wounded and one is still missing. Now, one expert is advising Michiganders on what to do if they find themselves in a similar situation.

Panic set in for the Gaylord community as an EF-3 tornado ripped through town.

Background: ‘Absolutely devastating’ -- 2 dead after Gaylord tornado, another missing, dozens injured

John Allen, an Associate Professor of Meteorology at Central Michigan University, said the dangerous event might not look like what people expect.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be the funnel that people are used to from the Wizard of Oz-type depiction,” Allen said. “It can be just a whirling body of dust which as we actually saw in the early parts of this tornado.”

In just 20 minutes, the twister carrying a wind speed of 150 miles an hour caused major destruction.

Stories have come out of Gaylord of people hiding in the back room of their businesses, seeking refuge in their vehicles and some even standing outside to watch the phenomenon.

Professor Allen said people’s first response should be to seek protection.

“Generally speaking for a tornado, the more walls between you and the tornado the better. If you can get underground even better again,” he said.

Allen says the reason having more walls between you and the tornado has to do with flying projectiles like wood and steel. A person getting hit by shrapnel flying at speeds in excess of a hundred miles an hour is deadly.

So, finding refuge in a room, such as a bathroom or closet, with no windows and is centrally located inside of a building is key.

“The most common fatality cause of tornadoes is actually when we see debris lofted and impacting people,” Allen said. “Vehicles and manufactured mobile homes are not great places to be in these events.”

As we head into the peak of severe weather season in Michigan, Allen is encouraging all Michiganders to be prepared.

“Some basic emergency supplies, right?” he said. “When these severe thunderstorm events occur, as we’ve seen, power outages. So, what are you going to do in the event of a power outage? What are you going to do if you needed a first aid kit, or you needed a flashlight because it occurred at night? If you get a tornado warning, that’s when you take action to implement that plan.”

Other advice Professor Allen is gave is to trim overgrown or dead branches off of trees and bushes to avoid hazardous debris in the event of a tornado.

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