TornadoesWhat is a Tornado and it’s warning signs?

Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms. Spawned from powerful thunderstorms, they can cause fatalities and devastate a neighborhood in seconds. Tornadoes appears as a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground with whirling winds that can reach 300 miles per hour. Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long. Every state is at some risk from this hazard, although they are more common in the Plains states.
The U. S. has more tornadoes than anywhere else in the world, averaging about 1,200 per year. Canada is #2 with the central provinces having the most risk. Some tornadoes are clearly visible, while rain or nearby low hanging clouds obscure others. Occasionally, tornadoes develop so rapidly that little, if any advance warning is possible. They may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms in the funnel. The average tornado moves Southwest to Northeast, but can move in any direction along the trailing edge of a thunderstorm.
The average forward speed is 30 MPH, but may vary from stationary to 70 MPH. Peak tornado season for those areas east of the Rocky Mountains is spring and summer months; they most likely occur between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., but can occur at any time. Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become very still.

What causes a Tornado?

Tornadoes are most often spawned by giant thunderstorms knows as “supercells.” These powerful, highly organized storms form when warm, moist air along the ground rushes upward, meeting cooler, drier air. As the rising warm air cools, the moisture it carries condenses, forming a massive thundercloud, sometimes growing to as much as 50,000 feet in height. Variable winds at different levels of the atmosphere feed the updraft and cause the formation of the tornado’s characteristic funnel shape.

What do the Tornado buzzwords mean?

Tornado Watch – means a tornado is possible. Remain alert for approaching storms. Watch the sky, especially to the south/southwest. Stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information.
Tornado Warning – means a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar and may strike in your vicinity. Take shelter quickly and take a radio with you for updates. Make sure your kids and you know what county or area you live in and listen for that name on radio or TV updates.

What should we do to prepare for a Tornado?

During any storm, listen to local news or a NOAA weather radio to stay informed about watches and warnings    .  Know your community’s warning system; some have recorded telephone calls others have sirens for outdoor warnings. Pick a safe room in your home where everyone can gather. practice periodic tornado drills so everyone will know what to do. Before storm season, consider reinforcing your safe room, remove any diseased and damaged limbs from trees; move or secure lawn furniture, trash cans, hanging plants or anything else that can be picked up by the wind and become a projectile.

What should we do if a Tornado is threatening?

Take shelter immediately. Watch for dark, greenish clouds and a roaring noise especially. Your best protection is an underground shelter, cave, or substantial steel-framed or reinforced concrete building. If none of these is available, there are other places to take refuge:

At Home – If you don’t have an underground storm cellar, go to a corner of your home basement and take cover under a sturdy workbench or table (but not underneath heavy appliances on the floor above). If your home has no basement, take cover in the center part of the house, on the lowest floor, in a small room such as a closet or bathroom, or under sturdy furniture. stay away from windows to avoid flying debris. Do not remain in a mobile home if a tornado is approaching; take cover elsewhere in a nearby shelter or lie flat in the nearest depression or ditch. Make sure the ditch is dry.
At work, shopping, dining, etc. – Take shelter in an interior hallway on the lowest floork or to the designated shelter area for that building.
At school – Follow the instructions of school authorities. these usually involve taking shelter in interior hallways on the lowest floor, and staying out of structures with wide, free-span roofs, such as auditoriums and gymnasiums.
Outside in open country or in an automobile – Take cover and lie flat in the nearest depression, such as a ditch, culvert, excavation, or ravine, and cover your head with your arms. Never stay in your automobile , except as a very, very last resort. Buckle your seatbelt.

What do we do after a Tornado?

  • Continue listening to local news or NOAA weather radio for updated information and instructions.
  • If you are away from home, return only when authorities say it is safe to do so.
  • Wear long pants, long sleeved shirt and sturdy shoes when examining your home for damage.
  • Use battery-powered flashlights when examining buildings, not candles.
  • Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines and report them to the utility company immediately.
  •  If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and get everyone out of the building as quickly as possible.
  •  If damage is clearly evident, stay out.
  • Use the telephone only for emergency calls. Texting may be quicker to contact family. The Red Cross provides a registry on the American Red Cross Safe and Well website where you can register to let your family and friends know about your welfare or call 1-800-GETINFO.
  • Take pictures of damage, both of building and its contents, for insurance claims.
  • Keep all pets under your direct control.
  • Check for injuries. If you are trained provide first aid to persons in need until emergency responders arrive.
  • If you have to rebuild, ask your contractor about strengthening garage doors and about building a safe room as well as reinforcing masonry walls, securing your chimney or permanently connecting  your manufactured home to its foundation.

Additional Tornado info from American Red Cross

Billie Nicholson, editor
December 2016

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