Protecting Yourself During Tornadoes
Tornadoes are spawned from powerful thunderstorms, and cause fatalities and devastate neighborhoods in seconds. Tornadoes are rotating, funnel shaped clouds that extend from a thunderstorm to the ground, and generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. Winds from a tornado can reach 300 miles per hour. These violent tornadoes can be obscured by rain or nearby low hanging clouds, and can develop so rapidly that little if any advance warning is possible.
What is the difference from a Watch and a Warning?
A Watch means conditions are favorable for violent weather. This is the time to monitor the weather for changing conditions.
Look for the following danger signs of possible tornadic activity:
- Dark, often greenish sky
- Large, dark low lying cloud (especially if rotating)
- Large hail
- Loud roar, similar to a freight train
A Warning means severe weather/tornado has been spotted on the ground and/or indicated on radar, and you need to take cover immediately.
What to do....
When a tornado warning is issued for your area:
- Go to the lowest most interior part of your home immediately. Put as many walls between you and the outside as possible
- Stay away from windows
- Do not open windows
- Use your arms to protect your head, and/or cover yourself with a mattress or sleeping bag, pillow.
- Know where very heavy objects are on the floor above and do not go under them as they may fall through ontop of you.
- In a mobile home:
- Get out! Even if your home is tied down, it is not as safe as an underground shelter or permanent, sturdy building. Go to one of those shelters, or to a nearby permanent structure.
- At school:
- Follow the drill! Go to the interior hall or room in an orderly way as you are told. Crouch low, head down, and protect the back of your head with your arms. Stay away from windows and large open rooms like gyms and auditoriums
- In a house, a dorm, or an apartment with no basement:
- Avoid windows. Go to the lowest floor, small center room (like a bathroom or closet), under a stairwell, or in an interior hallway with no windows. Crouch as low as possible to the floor, facing down; and cover your head with your hands. A bath tub may offer a shell of partial protection. Even in an interior room, you should cover yourself with some sort of thick padding (mattress, blankets, etc.), to protect against falling debris in case the roof and ceiling fail.
- In an office building, hospital, nursing home or skyscraper:
- Go directly to an enclosed, windowless area in the center of the building - away from glass and on the lowest floor possible. Then, crouch down and cover your head. Interior stairwells are usually good places to take shelter, and if not crowded, allow you to get to a lower level quickly. Stay off the elevators; you could be trapped in them if the power is lost.
- In the open outdoors:
- If possible, seek shelter in a sturdy building. If not, lie flat and face-down on low ground, protecting your head with your arms. Get as far away from trees and cars as you can; they may become flying debris.
- If you are driving or away from shelter when a tornado warning is issued:
- Get out of the car immediately, and take shelter in a nearby building
- Never try to out drive a tornado
- Do not get under an overpass or bridge for protection
- If you are caught in your car by extreme winds or flying debris, park the car out of the traffic lances as quickly as possible. Stay in the car with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows; cover your head with your hands and a blanket, coat, or other cushion if possible.
- If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, leave your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands.
- In a shopping mall or large store:
- Do not panic. Listen for emergency messages over the store intercom and watch for others. Move as quickly as possible to an interior bathroom, storage room or other small enclosed area, away from windows. Look for tornado shelter signage.
- In a church or theater:
- Do not panic. If possible, move quickly but orderly to an interior bathroom or hallway, away from windows. Crouch face-down and protect your head with your arms. If there is no time to do that, get under the seats or pews, protecting your head with your arms or hands
Weather forecasting is not a perfect, and some tornadoes do occur without warning. It is important that you stay alert to the sky and know some things to look and listen for:
- Strong, persistent rotation in the base of a cloud
- Whirling dust or debris on the ground under the cloud base
- Hail or heavy rain followed by either dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift. Many tornadoes are wrapped in heavy precipitation and can't be seen.
- Day or night - loud, continuous roar or rumble, which doesn't fade within a few seconds like thunder.
- Night time - smalle, bright, blue-green to white flashes at ground level near a thunderstorms. This means power lines are being snapped by very strong winds, perhaps a tornado.
- Night time - Persistent lowering from the cloud base, illuminated or silhouetted by lightning, especially if its on the ground or there is a blue-green-white power flash underneath.
Tornado quick facts:
- Can strike quickly, with little to no warning
- May appear almost transparent until dust and debris are picked up, or a cloud forms in the funnel
- Tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3pm and 9pm, but can occur at any time
- Southern states have peak tornado season from March through May, but as we have experienced here, they can happen any time of the year
- The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 mph, but vary from stationary to 70 mph
- The average tornado moves southwest to northeast, but have been known to move in any direction
It is important to have a tornado plan in place at home, at the office, or anywhere you may frequent. Know where you can quickly take shelter, and practice at home and at the office at least yearly. When a tornado watch is issued, start thinking about those safe places and what you may need to have ready if things get bad. (see Before the disaster)