Turnpike Twister: Sheltering along the road when tornadoes threaten

It’s one of the biggest fears people–especially those from out-of-state–have when they travel across Kansas: “What if there’s a tornado?” While the odds are low of running into a tornadic storm, the reality is that it could happen and you need to know ahead of time what your options are.

The Kansas Turnpike is a great and convenient highway system criss-crossing the state and connecting the state’s major cities. However, it sometimes takes you through some of the worst of the weather. Driving toward a dangerous storm could leave you without a safe haven if the storm intensifies. In 2009, several drivers were faced with this very situation heading west out of Kansas City on their way toward Topeka when a tornado crossed the turnpike near Linwood, just east of Lawrence.

So what should you do?

First and foremost, know that your exiting options are limited along the turnpike and use good judgment when you see a storm.

The Kansas Turnpike Authority has installed nearly two dozen underground tornado shelters at all of the manned toll booths as well as the service areas, and they are designed not only for the employees of KTA, but also for the travelling public to take shelter when the storms are at their worst.

“If you pull up to a toll booth and there is no one in it, that’s probably a good sign that they’ve already taken cover, so you can go ahead and seek cover yourself,” said Trooper Karl Koenig of the Kansas Highway Patrol.

If you do see a tornado while driving, remember it is often farther away than you think and you might have plenty of time to get to one of these shelters.

“There is ample parking, and there is just as much room for people there at those tornado shelters,” added Koenig with regard to the better parking options at the service areas.

When a tornado is approaching, people often head for a ditch way too early. If a storm is several miles away, it’s going to take quite a while to get to that location. If you’re caught in this situation, you should safely get out of the path of the storm, rather than laying down and waiting for it to hit you.

So you’ve got some choices, even along the Kansas Turnpike. Try to get out of the path of a tornado and know that the shelters are there and intended to be used to keep travelers safe.

It’s also a good reminder that you should never seek shelter under an overpass. The winds actually strengthen when having to be funneled beneath the overpass–making the tornado’s winds even stronger at that spot. Avoid overpasses at all costs. If you’d like to get familiarized with all of the locations of the turnpike’s underground shelters, use the link below.

Map of KTA tornado shelter locations

– KSNT Storm Track Chief Meteorologist Matt Miller

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