Tornadoes

Tornadoes

What is a tornado?

A tornado is a violent windstorm characterized by a twisting, funnel-shaped cloud. It is spawned by a thunderstorm (or sometimes as a result of a hurricane) and produced when cool air overrides a layer of warm air, forcing the warm air to rise rapidly. Tornadoes can destroy buildings, flip cars, and create deadly flying debris.

A tornado can:

  • Happen anytime and anywhere.
  • Bring intense winds, over 200 miles per hour.
  • Look like funnels.

Tornado Facts

The best protection during a tornado is in an interior room on the lowest level of a building, preferably a basement or storm cellar.

Tornadoes strike with incredible velocity. Wind speeds may approach 300 miles per hour. These winds can uproot trees and structures and turn harmless objects into deadly missiles, all in a matter of seconds. Mobile homes are particularly vulnerable to tornadoes.

Injuries or deaths related to tornadoes most often occur when buildings collapse, people are hit by flying objects or are caught trying to escape the tornado in a car.

Tornadoes are most destructive when they touch ground. Normally a tornado will stay on the ground for no more than 20 minutes; however, one tornado can touch ground several times in different areas.

Tornadoes can occur in any state but are more frequent in the Midwest, Southeast, and Southwest. The states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas are at greatest risk.

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Tornado Watch versus Warning

Watch

tornado watch is issued by the National Weather Service when tornadoes are possible in your area. Remain alert for approaching storms. This is the time to remind family members where the safest places within your home are located, and listen to the radio or television for further developments.

Warning

tornado warning is issued when a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. If a tornado warning is issued for your area and the sky becomes threatening, move to your pre-designated place of safety. Turn on a battery-operated radio and wait for further instructions.

TORNADO DANGER SIGNS

Look out for:

  • Dark, often greenish sky
  • Wall cloud
  • Large hail
  • Loud roar; similar to a freight train

Caution:

  • Some tornadoes appear as a visible funnel extending only partially to the ground. Look for signs of debris below the visible funnel.
  • Some tornadoes are clearly visible, while others are obscured by rain or nearby low-hanging clouds.
  • Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become very still.
  • An approaching cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado even if a funnel is not visible.
  • Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.

MOBILE HOMES

Mobile homes are particularly vulnerable. A mobile home can overturn very easily even if precautions have been taken to tie down the unit. When a tornado warning is issued, take shelter in a building with a strong foundation. If shelter is not available, lie in a ditch or low-lying area a safe distance away from the unit.

Before a Tornado

CONDUCT TORNADO DRILLS EACH TORNADO SEASON

Designate an area in the home as a shelter, and practice having everyone in the family go there in response to a tornado threat.

Discuss with family members the difference between a “tornado watch” and a “tornado warning.”

HAVE DISASTER SUPPLIES ON HAND

  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Portable, battery-operated radio and extra batteries
  • First aid kit and manual
  • Emergency food and water
  • Nonelectric can opener
  • Essential medicines
  • Cash and credit cards
  • Sturdy shoes

DEVELOP AN EMERGENCY COMMUNICATION PLAN

In case family members are separated from one another during a tornado (a real possibility during the day when adults are at work and children are at school), have a plan for getting back together.

Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the family contact. After a disaster, it’s often easier to call long distance. Make sure everyone in the family knows the name, address, and phone number of the contact person.

During a tornado

AT HOME

  • Go at once to the basement, storm cellar, or the lowest level of the building.
  • If there is no basement, go to an inner hallway or a small inner room without windows, such as a bathroom or closet.
  • Get away from windows.
  • Go to the center of the room and:
  • Stay away from corners because they tend to attract debris.
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a workbench or heavy table and hold on to it.
  • Use your arms to protect your head and neck.
  • If in a mobile home, get out and find shelter elsewhere.

AT WORK OR SCHOOL

  • Go to the basement or to an inside hallway at the lowest level.
  • Avoid places with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums, cafeterias, large hallways, or shopping malls.
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a workbench or heavy table or desk and hold on to it.
  • Use your arms to protect your head and neck.

OUTDOORS

  • If possible, get inside a building.
  • If shelter is not available or there is no time to get indoors, lie in a ditch or low-lying area or crouch near a strong building. Be aware of the potential for flooding.
  • Use your arms to protect your head and neck.

If in a car, NEVER try to outdrive a tornado in a car or truck.

Tornadoes can change direction quickly and can lift up the car or truck and toss it through the air.

  • Get out of the car immediately and take shelter in a nearby building.
  • If there is no time to get indoors, get out of the car and lie in a ditch or low-lying area away from the vehicle. Be aware of the potential for flooding.
After a tornado

HELP INJURED OR TRAPPED PERSONS

Give first aid when appropriate. Don’t try to move the seriously injured unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Call for help.

  • Turn on radio or television to get the latest emergency information.
  • Stay out of damaged buildings. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
  • Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
  • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches or gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately. Leave the building if you smell gas or chemical fumes.
  • Take pictures of the damage – both to the house and its contents – for insurance purposes.
  • Check for gas leaks – If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can and call the gas company from a neighbor’s home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.

Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance – infants, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

INSPECTING UTILITIES IN A DAMAGED HOME

Look for electrical system damage – If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice.

Check for sewage and water lines damage – If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water by melting ice cubes.

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