Rescuers are flocking to the Midwest to help tornado-ravaged areas. The storm that hit Washington, Illinois with a vengeance last week killed at least six and injured dozens more. The storm unleashed powerful winds that flattened entire neighborhoods, flipped over cars and uprooted trees. The unusually powerful late-season wave of thunderstorms brought damaging winds and tornadoes to 12 states including Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and western New York.
Although certain areas of the United States are considered more at risk than others, every state could potentially encounter the hazard—which is why we want to devote this week’s blog posts to tornado preparation and recovery.
Often referred to as nature’s most violent storms, tornadoes grow out of powerful thunderstorms, which first appear as rotating, funnel-shaped clouds that extend from a thunderstorm to the ground with whirling winds that can reach 300 miles per hour. I guess they look like the Tasmanian Devil on the Road Runner Show? Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long.
Here are a few facts about tornadoes:
- Some tornadoes are clearly visible, while others might be obscured by rain or nearby low-hanging clouds.
- Unlike hurricanes, tornadoes can develop so rapidly that little, if any, advance warning is possible.
- Tornadoes may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms in the funnel.
- Immediately before a tornado hits, wind may die down and the air may become very still.
- Sometimes, a tornado can leave a cloud of debris in its wake, marking the location of a tornado even when a funnel is not visible. I’ve been known to leave a cloud of debris in my own wake, or so I’m told.
- The average tornado moves southwest to northeast, but can move in any direction.
- Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm.
- It is not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.
- The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 mph, but may vary from stationary to 70 mph. My average speed is 30-40 mph.
- Tornadoes can accompany tropical storms and hurricanes as they move onto land.
- Waterspouts are tornadoes that form over water.
- Tornadoes are most frequently reported east of the Rocky Mountains during spring and summer months. I love Colorado. So I think it might be worth the risk to live there.
- Peak tornado season in the southern states is March through May; in the northern states, it is late spring through early summer.
- Tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3 pm and 9 pm, but can occur at any time. That’s a little confusing…
How to Prepare for a Tornado
1. Assemble an emergency preparedness kit. And don’t forget to include turkey jerky!
2. Make a family and/or workplace communications plan.
3. Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or to commercial radio or television newscasts for the latest information. In any emergency, listen to instructions given by local emergency management officials. What to listen for:
- Tornado Watch: Tornadoes are possible in the immediate area. Remain alert for approaching storms.
- Tornado Warning: 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.
- Severe Thunderstorm Watch: Severe thunderstorms are possible.
- Severe Thunderstorm Warning: Severe thunderstorms are occurring.
4. Tornadoes occasionally develop in areas in which severe thunderstorm storm watches or warnings are in effect. Remain alert to signs of an approaching tornado and seek shelter if threatening conditions exist.
- Pay attention to changing weather conditions. Watch for approaching storms.
- Look for danger signs:
- Dark, greenish sky
- Large hail
- A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if is rotating)
- Loud roar—similar to a freight train
5. If you see approaching storms or any of the danger signs, be prepared to take shelter immediately. Most injuries associated with high winds are from flying debris. So remember to protect your head!
If you are inside when you see a Tornado approaching
- Go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level. If there is no basement, go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck.
- In a high-rise building, go to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible.
- Put on sturdy shoes.
- If an underground shelter is not available, move to an interior room or hallway on the lowest floor and seek shelter under a sturdy piece of furniture.
- Stay away from windows.
- Do not try to outrun a tornado in your car; instead leave it immediately.
- If caught outside or in a vehicle, lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression.
- Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes and should be abandoned.
If you are outside and see a tornado approaching
- Immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter.
- If your vehicle is hit by flying debris while you are driving, pull over and park.
- 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.
- Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location.
- Don’t try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a car or truck. Instead, leave the vehicle for safe shelter.
- Watch for flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.
What to Do After a Tornado
- If you are trapped, try to attract attention to your location. I would bark.
- Injury may result from the direct impact of a tornado or it may occur afterward, when people walk among debris and enter damaged buildings.
- Do not attempt to move seriously injured people or pets unless they are in immediate danger of further injury.
- If necessary, get medical assistance immediately.
- If someone has stopped breathing, begin CPR if you are trained to do so.
- Stop a bleeding injury by applying direct pressure to wounds.
- Do not touch downed power lines or objects in contact with downed lines. Report electrical hazards to the police and the utility company.
- Use battery-powered lanterns, if possible, rather than candles to light homes without electrical power.
- Don’t use generators, pressure washers, grills, camp stoves or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside your home, basement, garage or camper— or even outside near an open window, door or vent.
- Hang up displaced telephone receivers, but stay off the telephone, except to report emergencies. Now is not the time to chat about your new outfit!
- Cooperate with public safety officials.
- Respond to requests for volunteer assistance by police, fire fighters, emergency management and relief organizations. But do not go into damaged areas unless assistance has been requested. Your presence could hamper relief efforts and you could endanger yourself.
- Because tornadoes often damage power lines, gas lines or electrical systems, there is an associated risk of fire, electrocution or explosion.
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