With spring we experience volatile weather, which often spawns tornadoes.

TornadoCredit: weathertracking.webs.com

Twirling and twisting air forms a tornado.  They are also called cyclones and twisters.  A tornado is a powerful column of air that begins to spiral and form around low atmospheric pressure.  It creates a funnel where the winds inside will spiral upward and inward with a lot of speed and power creating a forceful vacuum pulling and sucking everything upward as it spins across the land and structures.  A twister can be one of nature’s most destructive and fickle forces as it skips up and down with winds inside growing up to 500 miles per hour and can move across the face of the earth at speeds up to 300 miles per hour. 

Tornadoes can form very quickly, less than a minute, and can disappear just as quickly.  That is why is so important to be aware of the weather alerts that might give you some warning of potential storms.

When a tornado approaches your home or community it is important to remember that your immediate actions may mean life or death for you and your family.

The best advice is to find inside shelter when you see a funnel cloud approaching.  Preferably your inside shelter is an underground shelter.  This could be a designated tornado cellar or shelter, some type of underground excavation, or your home basement.  If an underground shelter is unavailable to you, then seek safety in a steel-framed or reinforced concrete building of substantial construction. 

As you seek shelter and safety inside it is extremely important to stay away from the windows and other glass as these can blow out and shatter and cause death.

When a tornado approaches you may not find yourself in an area that you are familiar with or know where to go.  Here is some advice if you are warned of a tornado approaching:

In Office Buildings - Try to get to an area where you can stand in an interior hallway on a lower floor, preferably in the basement.  Avoid large glass windows and doors. 

In Factories or Warehouses – On receiving a tornado warning, post a lookout to watch for movement of the tornado while workers are moved to safety.  All employees, staff, and visitors should move quickly to the section of the warehouse or plant that offers the greatest protection from falling objects, glass, and other hazards.  A disaster plan should be implemented and practiced regularly if your plant is in an area where tornados are a problem. 

In Personal Homes – The basement of your home usually offers the greatest safety.  Even in a basement, seek shelter under a sturdy workbench or heavy table if possible.  In a home with no basement, take cover under heavy furniture in the center part of the house.  If you move into the basement, avoid being directly below heavy furniture or appliances on the floor above you so that they don’t come crashing down on you. 

Mobile or trailer homes are particularly vulnerable to overturning and tearing apart during strong winds and twisters.  If you live or are staying in a trailer park, check to see if they have a community safety shelter.  A community leader should be appointed to be responsible for constant radio monitoring during threatening weather or during alerts and tornado watch periods.  Bathtubs can offer some protection, especially if you have a heavy blanket, sleeping bag, or mattress over you.  It is best to leave a mobile home and seek shelter out in the open, on the ground or in a ditch. 

In Schools – Schools have evacuation and disaster plans that should be well thought out and implemented with practice drills performed on a regular basis.  Signage should be posted to tell children, staff and visitors of safe shelter areas within the buildings.  Whenever possible, go to an interior hallway on the lowest floor of the building, or move into the basement.  Make sure curious students are not allowed to be near windows. 

Avoid auditoriums and gymnasiums or other large structures that have wide, free-span roofs.  If the building is not of reinforced construction, evacuate quickly to a nearby-reinforced building, or to a ravine or open ditch and lie flat.

In Open Country – If you find yourself out in the open during a storm, move away from the tornado’s path at a right angle.  If there is no time to escape, lie flat in the nearest depression, such as ditch or ravine. Get out of your car or vehicle and away from them as it is often more dangerous to be inside than out on the ground.  Make sure you are not near the vehicle so it cannot roll on top of you.  

Where ever you are when you are faced with the possibility of being in a tornado you should lie face down or crouch down as low as possible, covering and protecting your head.  If available, use a mattress or heavy blankets for protection. 

Keep Listening

Your radio and television stations will broadcast the latest tornado advisory information.  Call the Weather Service only to report a tornado.  Watch the sky, listen and watch for other signs of a tornado:

  • Watch for obvious funnel cloud formations.
  • Notice strong and persistent rotation in the clouds.
  • Watch for whirling dust and debris on the ground under a cloud base.
  • Pay attention if you have just experienced hail and heavy rain and then sudden, dead calm or a sudden and intense wind shift.
  • At night, watch for small bright, blue-green to white flashes at ground level near a thunderstorm.  This could be power lines snapping during a tornado that cannot be seen by the eye.   

Prepare in Advance

As a family, you should have a tornado plan if you live in an area where tornadoes are more common.  Discuss disaster emergencies as a family, form your own disaster plan, and practice and drill your family so that everyone knows what to do in the event of a sudden storm.  Being prepared in advance can help calm fears and makes it easier to know what to do in an emergency.