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The tornado, also known as twisters and cyclones, is the most violent storm in nature, and tornado preparedness in regions prone to them is essential. It is a rotating column of air that is in contact with the ground and a cumulonimbus cloud. The majority of tornadoes have wind speeds of under 110 miles per hour, but some can reach 300 miles per hour. Very extreme tornadoes can stretch to more than two miles wide, though most are smaller. Tornadoes may accompany hurricanes and other tropical storms as they move inland. Most tornadoes move Southwest to Northeast, but they can move in any direction. Tornadoes can develop quickly so they may strike with little or no warning. Most twisters occur east of the Rocky Mountains, though every state has some risk. Every year, on average, twisters kill around 60 people and cause $400 million dollars in damage. The risk to life, limb, and property can be mitigated against with proper tornado readiness though. The following guide offers some tips for doing just that.
Tornado Preparedness – Know the Signs of an Impending Tornado
Tornadoes may gather and strike with little or no advanced warning which highlights the need for advance tornado preparedness. However, before a tornado hits:
- An unusual black or green color to the sky may indicate a tornado is coming.
- The wind may quiet down and the air may become very still. The calm may be preceded by hail or heavy rainfall.
- A loud roaring sound may be heard. Tornadoes have been described as sounding like a jet engine, a locomotive, or a strong waterfall.
- A debris cloud may indicate the location of a tornado, even if the characteristic funnel is not seen yet.
- Before dirt and debris are picked up, the tornado may appear transparent.
- Tornadoes can accompany tropical storms, so be on guard as they make landfall.
Receive Tornado Alerts
There are a number of ways to be alerted of a coming storm. These include:
- Tune into NOAA Weather Radio. NOAA will provide alerts of dangerous weather patterns.
- If you use a mobile device, consider installing a Tornado alert app. Both free and paid solutions are available for Apple iOS and Google Android.
- If you community has a siren installed, know the sound and heed the warning.
- Commercial radio and television broadcasts can also be monitored.
When a Tornado Warning Sounds
If a tornado strikes, seek shelter IMMEDIATELY. Depending on where you are:
- If in a structure (e.g., home, school, factory, hospital, office, et al.), go to a pre-designated shelter area such as the basement, safe room, storm cellar, fallout shelter, etc. If there is no basement or lower level, get the center of an interior room. If in a school, do not shelter in a auditorium, cafeteria, or gymnasium. Do not use elevators as power may fail.
- If in a passenger vehicle, stop, get out of the vehicle, and lie flat in a ditch or other low area. Do not get under your vehicle. It is not advisable to take shelter under a bridge.
- If in a mobile home or trailer, leave immediately and seek shelter in a nearby building or storm shelter. If caught outside with no shelter, lie flat in a depression or ditch, but be aware of possible flooding. Cover your head and neck from flying debris.
- Never attempt to outrun a tornado on foot or in a vehicle.
A big part of tornado preparedness is planning – including knowing in advance where you will find shelter when one strikes.
Preparing for a Tornado Before One Strikes
Steps can be taken to before a tornado incident that can greatly reduce the possibility of injury. These include:
- Build a disaster kit and have it available in your home and/or place of business.
- Invest in a NOAA Weather Radio.
- Review the materials available from the American Red Cross on tornado preparedness. The ARC also has a free mobile app for iOS and Android that provides a great deal of training and information on the topic.
- If the means are available, the best protect would be to install a safe room in your home or business. These may be built in existing structures or separately.
- Prefabricated units are available on the commercial market.
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency publishes a free guide to building safe rooms entitled Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business. The diagrams are also available in AutoCAD format for building contractors.
- Some state governments also offer grants for individuals who install storm shelters in their home.
- Consider obtaining or installing a backup generator in the event of extended power outages.
Additional details on tornado readiness are available on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website, and state and county level emergency organizations. Issues related to tornado preparedness may also be discussed on the Disaster.com forum. Sign up is quick, easy, and totally free.
- The Online Tornado FAQ (by Roger Edwards, SPC). (2015, January 25). Retrieved February 10, 2015, from http://www.spc.ncep.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/
- Taking Shelter From the Storm: Building a Safe Room For Your Home or Small Business (3rd ed.). (2008). Washington DC: FEMA.
- Allaby, M. (1997). Tornadoes. New York: Facts On File.
- Tornadoes. (2014, April 30). Retrieved February 10, 2015, from http://www.ready.gov/tornadoes
- Are you ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness (pp. 7, 57-65). (2002). Washington, D.C.: FEMA.
- U.S. Tornadoes as Deadly, Costly as Hurricanes: Lloyd’s. (2013, February 13). Retrieved February 10, 2015, from http://www.propertycasualty360.com/2013/02/27/us-tornadoes-as-deadly-costly-as-hurricanes-lloyds
- (n.d.). Retrieved February 10, 2015, from http://www.brunswick.oh.us/Fire/Tornado_TipSheet_WarningSigns_v3.pdf
- Storm Aware. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2015, from http://stormaware.mo.gov/alerts/
- Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness | State of Louisiana. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2015, from http://gohsep.la.gov/tornado.aspx
- Safety in Schools. (2011, September 1). Retrieved February 11, 2015, from http://www.crh.noaa.gov/images/dvn/downloads/backgrounder_DVN_Tornadoes.pdf
- Tornado Preparedness, from http://www.ready.gov/tornadoes