This week is Severe Weather Awareness Week & today is dedicated to tornados. Unlike hurricanes where one generally has at least a days’ notice if not a week or more to prepare, a tornado can strike with little to no warning at all. While today’s technology is getting better, some tornados can occur without a warning and while you are away from a weather radio.
Staying weather aware:
Fortunately there are apps currently on the market for many brands of cell phones to help alert you to issues but there are two downsides; first you must have your GPS turned on (security concerns & increased battery usage) and you maybe in an area without service. With that in mind besides checking the weather before you leave here are some signs to watch out for;
- Strong, persistent rotation in the cloud base.
- Whirling dust or debris on the ground under a cloud base.
- Hail or heavy rain followed by either dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift.
- Day or night – loud, continuous roar or rumble which does not fade – many liken it to a freight train.
- Night – Small, bright, blue-green to white flashes at ground level which is generally caused by power lines being snapped by very strong wind, or a tornado. Also if it appears that the clouds seem unusually low or are touching the ground.
Being prepared: Home
The time to prepare is not when the forecaster is on TV saying it is “time to get to your place of safety if you live in…” As I am sure you have heard, you need to have a family tornado plan in place, based on the kind of dwelling you live in which you should practice at least once a year (assuming you don’t have a shelter).
- In a house with a basement: Avoiding windows, head to the basement & take cover under some kind of sturdy protection (heavy table or work bench), or cover yourself with a mattress or sleeping bag. If you have a piano, waterbed, refrigerator on the floors above, that would not be a good area to take cover.
- Regular house, apartment, dorm: Avoiding windows, head to the lowest floor & towards the center of the house – preferably a bathroom, closet, or under a stairwell. If that is unavailable an interior hallway with the doors closed is another area. Crouch as low as possible to the floor, facing down; and cover your head with your hands. A bath tub (especially a cast iron one) gives one a great shelter, especially when coupled with a mattress (over the top) in case of flying or falling debris.
- Mobile Homes & Trailers: Seriously, don’t you know those things are magnets for tornados? Even with them being tied down it is not enough & the experts say your chances of survival are deemed better outside in the open.
Being Prepared: Everywhere else
You can’t always plan on being home, so that is one reason why you should have some pre-determined places to meet after a disaster. If you shop frequently at certain stores, pay attention to where the bathrooms, storage rooms and any other shelter areas are located. All administrators of schools, shopping centers, nursing homes, hospitals, office buildings, etc… should have a tornado safety plan in place, with easy-to-read signs posted to direct everyone to shelter areas.
Office building, hospital, nursing home, skyscraper, church, theater, shopping mall: First try not to panic, pay attention to any announcements and follow any shelter signs. If there are none, head directly to an enclosed, windowless area towards the center of the building. If you are in a stairwell, head to the lowest floor possible. Just like a fire, make sure you stay off the elevators; you could be trapped in them if the power is lost.
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.
On the road: Unlike a thunderstorm or lightning storm your vehicle is not the place to be. If the tornado is visible, & far away – you may be able to drive out of its path by moving at right angles to it. In reality, if at all possible you should find a safe building to take shelter in. If you have no other options, park the car as quickly and safely as possible out of the traffic lanes & run to low ground away from any cars. Lie flat and face-down, protecting the back of your head with your arms. Avoid seeking shelter under bridges, which can create deadly traffic hazards while offering little protection against flying debris.
On a farm, backpacking: Assuming there is no sturdy building nearby to seek shelter in, get as far away from any trees or cars as possible & lie flat and face-down, protecting the back of your head with your arms.
Additional Websites & Information
- NWS / NOAA: A preparedness guide (pdf)
- HTRC: Disaster Preparation for Small Business
- HTRC: 5 steps for being prepared for Hurricanes (& wildfires, flooding, etc…)
- HTRC: Severe Weather Week Articles – Flooding, Lightning, NOAA Radios, Thunderstorm, Tornado’s