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Tornado Preparedness Guide

When a tornado occurs, the damage can be catastrophic. While the weather signs will alert you to take some precautions, you should prepare beforehand. A tornado will not only destroy structures but can hurl objects into the air. And because these storms are often obscured by darkness or rain, you should have a tornado emergency plan. What’s more, you must learn how to protect yourself in cars and other situations.

Since most storms won’t give a warning, you should give yourself enough lead time to plan. You don’t want to run around the last minute when your main concern should be seeking safety.

Planning requires that you have a shelter plan in place. Where do you want to go when a warning has been issued in your city? Do you have a room in your ground floor where you can take shelter? Once you identify where you plan to hide, you should let your family know. If you’re at the workplace, look for a small hallway on the lowest floor possible. A word of caution – avoid auditoriums with flat wide-span roofs.

If you live in a mobile home, look for a sturdy building. Even if your home is trapped on the ground, the structure can often be lifted and thrown.

Difference between a tornado watch and tornado warning

When there’s a tornado watch, you should have emergency supplies and shelter plan in place. Stay tuned to the local broadcast and any changes in weather. The massive storm may encompass the entire state or country. On the other hand, a warning is spotted by a human eye. If the storm is moving towards you, you should take shelter immediately.

Right before a tornado

Listen to local NOAA or area Radio/ watch TV

NOAA weather radio gives continuous weather information from the national weather service. The broadcast includes forecasts, warnings, hazard information, and other weather observations. In most cases, the radio will give information on the duration and location of the storm. Keep in mind that you still have to listen to the weather channel just in case there’s another tornado on the way. The local authorities and weather experts will tell you what to do next.

Know the signs

While a funnel-shaped cloud is an obvious sign, you should pay attention to other cues like yellowish-sky, large hail, dark greenish sky, and a roar (similar to a train). Also, watch out on debris and dust falling from the sky. The storms strike in the afternoon or early evening and can have an average speed of 30mph. It can touch the ground several times but will stay on the ground no more than 20 minutes.

Prepare the yard

If you want to prevent damage to your yard during a storm, you should free off the weak branches from trees. Similarly, if you have stones or gravel in your yard, you should consider replacing them with mulch. These small stones are blown into the windows. Most of the damage occurs when the strong winds blow the debris.

Plan for a power outage

In the event of a storm, you may have a power outage. You must have an emergency power kit when your power cuts out. This should include 2-3 days’ worth of perishable food and water (a gallon per person).

Be sure to keep it at a strategic place where you can find it in the dark. Another cautionary measure is to ensure all utility switches are accessible. This will help you turn off the appropriate ones in case of emergencies.

During the tornado

Once a warning sign has been issued in your city, seek shelter in the basement or sturdy building. Laundry rooms or bathrooms are the most suitable area because the water pipes will reinforce the walls. Also, you should ensure there are as many walls as possible and use your hands to protect the head. While a room will offer partial protection, you can cover yourself with some sort of padding like a mattress. Helmets can also protect you from head injuries. You may want to stay away from the corners, windows, and exterior walls. Don’t forget to keep your important items safe.

Agree with your family on the measures to take. For instance, you can decide to get into a storm stellar or the basement. Avoid the windows as debris can easily be blown away. The second precautionary measure is to put on a helmet in case things start falling on you. Needless to say, you should ensure everyone is wearing closed-toe shoes.

If you don’t have a room where your family can rush, you should have gameplay on how you can take shelter at a friend’s house. Avoid structures with long roofs like school gyms or shopping malls because they are likely to collapse in case of a storm. It gets better if you create a list of the community storm shelters in your area. And because shelters fill in so easily, you don’t have to wait until the last minute to arrive. While community centers are usually cramped, the safety they provide will be worth it.

If you’re in a car

If you have a vehicle, drive it to the nearest shelter. However, if strong debris occurs when driving, pull over and leave the engine running. Of course, you may want to put your head below the windows. If a tornado is visible and you’re far away, you should drive at right angles away from the tornado. Never seek shelter under bridges as it offers little protection from the flying debris. If you’re in the urban area, don’t try to outrun the tornado as it can quickly pick up large objects.

What if you don’t know which direction of the tornado? Don’t panic. Just get out of the vehicle and head to the basement of the nearest building. Alternatively, you can lie flat on the ditch and cover your head. You may want to get far away as possible from your vehicle just in case the strong winds try to pick up your vehicle. If they’re things you can hold on to, do so.

When there’s no close shelter, crouch as low as possible with your face facing down and cover your head with hands. During such severe weather, pet behavior can also change. They may become agitated or nervous, so you should be prepared to handle them. If time is limited, you should let them get to safety on their own.

You should always prepare in advance for a tornado – don’t let it take you by surprise.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


Are you worried that a tornado will strike your city? Here is a detailed tornado FAQ.

What is a tornado?

It refers to a violent column of air that is maintained by strong spinning winds. When the winds attain high speed, there’s a risk of loss of life or damage to property. In the past, tornados have destroyed railroads, buildings, and other structures. Experts use a Fujita Scale to measure the strength of a tornado.

Where do tornados come from?

A tornado refers to a tiny fraction of energy released by thunderstorms. But what makes them dangerous is the fact they are concentrated in one area. The destructive power of tornados occurs when the cold air tries to overrun the existing hot air. This, in turn, makes the warm air rotate in an anti-clockwise direction. The spiraling effect results in high speed. Generally, the upward flow of air is faster than the base. As the water vapor condenses at the bottom, the funnel lengthens on the ground.

The other reason why tornados form is the difference between temperature and moisture differences. Besides, the change of wind direction also determines the intensity of the tornado. It gets worse when winds start to move to the east and explosive thunderstorms start to happen.

Where do tornados occur?

In the USA, there are prevailing conditions where a tornado can form. This explains why Oklahoma, Texas, and Nebraska experience violent tornados than other cities. You’ll also find these rotating winds east of the Rocky Mountains and on the central plains of North America. According to modern science, these rotating winds are not the same and can occur at different times of the year. In most cases, they happen during the spring and summer season. But make no mistake- tornados can happen in the afternoon or any time of the day. These rotating winds are also seen in other continents like Africa, Europe, Australia, South America, and Asia. In some countries, these storms have occurred every month and at any time of the year.

How far can a tornado travel?

Tornado paths range from 100 yards to a few miles (up to 2.1). If the winds are strong, it can travel to 15 miles. While most tornados last for a few minutes, some can take more than an hour. In terms of speed, you should expect the winds to rotate at 30 mph. It’s worth mentioning that in the past some tornados have recorded an average speed of 70 mph.

The intensity and size of a tornado will depend on many factors. Keep in mind, the size of the tornado doesn’t determine the strength of the winds. That being said, small tornados are violent while large tornados are relatively weak.

What’s a supercell thunderstorm?

This is an organized thunderstorm that contains rotating updraft. It produces strong downbursts, hails, and tornados. Because a supercell is isolated from other thunderstorms, it gives the storm more energy. While these storms are rare, they are a threat to lives and property.

Can meteorologists detect a tornado?

While there’s no conclusive study on how a tornado can be detected, many researchers believe that they happen due to changes in atmospheric conditions. It’s impossible to predict in advance, so the forecasters make their conclusions based on the prevailing weather conditions. But once a tornado is seen on the horizons, a warning can be issued.

Do hails come before a tornado?

Not really. This will depend on the direction of the storm to the observer. While hails can indicate a strong presence of a thunderstorm, it doesn’t have to depend on it. To put it succinctly, lightning or rain are not strong indicators of a tornado.

What is a waterspout?

This is a common tornado FAQ. Waterspouts are common tornados that occur on the south coast. They happen on bays, lakes, and seas worldwide. And because they are smaller and weaker, they don’t count as tornados unless they hit the land. But that doesn’t mean they are not dangerous. Waterspouts can damage ships, overturn boats and even kill people. When a waterspout is spotted from a distance, The National Weather Service will issue a warning.

Are big tornados the strongest?

This is not always the case. While there’s a statistical trend that large tornados can do more damage, the strength of a tornado will depend on many factors. In the recent past, we’ve seen small tornados that spread over a mile.

How do strong storms dissipate?

From a scientific standpoint, tornados need heat and moisture to keep going. A tornado stops when there’s a cold flow of wind out of the precipitation area. For decades, many people have observed tornados weaken or go away as soon as they hit the airflow. The only drawback with this type of airflow is that it’s difficult to know which outflow will kill or cause a tornado.

Does cloud seeding affect tornados?

There’s no scientific proof that seeding can change the potential harm of a thunderstorm. But because the effects of seeding are hard to approve or disapprove, there’s a lot of controversy in this area.

Can tornados pick objects for miles?

Storms can pick debris for many miles. When tornados are strong enough, they can elevate heavy objects like trees, walls, and cars. In the past, tornados have lifted objects thousands of feet into the air. While heavy objects can only be airborne for short distances, light objects can be found 100 miles away.

What is the wind speed of a tornado?

Most tornados are violent, so it’s difficult to determine the actual speed of the wind. And because the winds are violent enough to destroy weather instruments, meteorologists can only measure the speed of wind in weak tornados. The strongest storm in history happened in 1993 in Bridge Creek, Oklahoma. It’s estimated that the wind was traveling at 318mph.

What’s the difference between a tornado and a funnel cloud?

A cloud funnel is made of invisible cloud objects. It extends far to the ground and then it becomes a tornado. On the other hand, a tornado consists of funnel-shaped storms that extend from thunderstorm’s cloud base.

How many tornados hit the US every year?

It’s estimated that 1300 tornados hit the United States yearly – the actual figure is unknown. Since the reporting methods have changed over the years, errors are bound to occur. Keep in mind events can be misclassified and some tornados can go unreported.

How many people are killed by tornados?

While the deaths can vary from single digits to a few hundred, most of them are caused by flying debris. It’s estimated that 60 people die every year from tornados.

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