Tornado What Ifs

Tornado What Ifs


Tornadoes can develop anywhere, without warning and can totally devastate everything in their path. They have been seen on every continent except Antarctica, although most occur in the United States.

Tornados are measured on the Fujita Scale, or the F-scale, with 0 being the lowest impact and 5 being the highest. When the scale was introduced in 1971, an F6 was believed to be “inconceivable” – but if we’ve learned anything in the last few years we’ve learned that Mother Nature can do inconceivable things whenever she wants. The history of the scale is fascinating and worth a read. Also interesting is the Tornado History Project, which was created in 2005 and provides data on tornadoes from 1950 to the present; check out their maps and learn about the statistical probability of a tornado striking where you live.

Tornados don’t wait until you’re safely ensconced in a state-of-the-art safe cellar, so whether you live within the infamous Tornado Alley ora geography with a low risk of tornados, if you find yourself in the path of a tornado you’ll have to make fast decisions about how to stay safe. The time to educate yourself and your kids about tornado safety is long before the warning sirens go off.

First, be sure you have a battery or hand-crank powered NOAA Weather Radio. If a storm is approaching, watch for dark, greenish skies, hail and large, low clouds. Listen for a loud roar – most people describe the sound of a tornado like that of a freight train. When these conditions are present, it’s time to take shelter. But – what if…

  • You’re in a small house, a high rise, at school, in a hospital or in a store? Go to the lowest level of the building and get to the innermost room. Look for a room with no windows or outside walls. If you can, get under a table or desk. Contrary to urban myth, you should not open windows.
  • You’re outside? If you’re in an urban area, find the closest shelter. Otherwise, get into a vehicle and drive to the closest shelter. If you can’t get to shelter, stay in the car with your seatbelt on, duck down and cover your head. If you can get to a ditch that is lower than the roadway, leave the car and lie flat. A low, flat area is safer than a highway overpass. Flying debris cause the most injuries, so covering up with anything you can find is the best way to protect yourself.
  • You’re on the water? If you’re on the water, you’ll want to leave the area as soon as you seen dark, low clouds developing. Tornados often follow thunderstorms, so don’t wait it out.
  • You’re at work? Get to the lowest floor and the innermost room with no windows or outside walls. Bathrooms usually fit this description, so if you’re working in an unfamiliar building, look for signs that point to the facilities.

The Best Advice? Take Shelter Early.

When it comes to tornados, the best advice is to be alert and take shelter early. If you’re caught in a tornado, get as low to the ground as you can, avoid windows as much as possible and find something with which to cover yourself. Tornado season lasts from late winter to late summer in most of North America, so now is the time to make sure your family knows what to do in various situations and you have a family emergency communication plan in place.

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