For those who travel to and/or through, or live in tornado prone areas you must make sure you are prepared. The power and ferocity of a tornado can’t be under estimated nor can it be dealt with. The power of winds that can hurl cars and trucks through the air like children’s toy, and devastate homes as if they were put through a food processor, warrant our respect and fear.
Preparing for a Tornado
The only way to mitigate the risks to your personal safety is to prepare in advance. Once the warnings and sightings are in progress it is too late to plan. This means that you must prepare in advance to reduce the risks to yourself and you family.
There are three main things that you should do while the weather is clear and there is no threat of a tornado.
If you live in a high risk home for tornado damage (i.e. a mobile home) locate all of the potential shelter areas within walking and running distance. These shelters include actual tornado shelters and sturdy buildings that stand a better chance of survival. Discover how these structures will be available during a disaster. For example some commercial buildings are locked as soon as a tornado watch or warning is issued. A good way to scout for a potential shelter is to ask your local fire department.
If you drive through areas prone to tornadoes on a regular basis (i.e. you commute or truck route) identify potential shelter options on your route.
Prepare and Plan
Establish a plan for yourself and you family for the coming storm. You should prepare this plan well in advance of thunderstorm and tornado season. Your plan should include:
- Preparing to head to shelter – shoe or boots, helmets, heavy clothing, flashlights.
- Knowing the route to the shelter.
- Determine if and how you will your take pets? Have carriers or leashes ready and accessible. Plan for the unfortunate event that you are unable find them or to get them on a leash or in a carrier. Understand that time is your enemy you will put your life and the lives of your family at risk if you spend too much time.
- Make sure your pets are chipped or have good identification collars. In the event that you get separated from your pet quality updated identification is the best way to be reunited with your pet.
- A communications plan. How will you communicate with family and friends once the storm passes?
Practice your plan. As you practice you will discover what does and does not work. You will also discover what items you are missing. As you practice revise your plan as necessary.
When a Tornado is Imminent
When a tornado is imminent: cover up, flee anything mobile, and find shelter.
Put on your sturdiest pair of shoes or boots immediately at the first warning. If you have a hardhat, bike helmet, motorcycle helmet, or any other head protection put it on. Make sure anyone with is doing the same thing. If you have time get on long pants and a long sleeve shirt. The more protection you can put on the better.
Flee Anything Mobile
If you are in a car, truck, RV, on a motorcycle, or within or on any other type of vehicle get out as fast as you possibly can and find shelter. If you are in a mobile home, get out and get to shelter.
Find shelter underground or in the inner most room of the most secure building available. The best place to shelter during a tornado is in an underground shelter. If this is not an option for you look for the sturdiest building you can find and get inside, moving toward the middle of the building away from all the windows, exterior walls, and exterior doors.
A Common Mistake
One of the most common mistakes is to attempt to drive away from the storm. As traffic builds and panic sets in everything will grind to a stop. This puts you at extreme risk.
The Meanings of Watches and Warnings
Prior to a tornado event you will most likely hear of thunderstorm watches and warnings and also tornado watches and warnings. To understand these announcements it is important to understand the four main terms: thunderstorm, tornado, watch, and warning.
A thunderstorm is a characterized by conditions of heavy rain, lightening, and thunder, often with heavy winds, and often with hail.
Often spawned within thunderstorms tornados are identified by their high-speed winds that circle in a funnel pattern.
A watch is issued when the conditions are right for a thunderstorm or tornado to develop.
A warning is issued when either the thunderstorm or tornado are spotted on radar or reported by spotters.
When to Take Action
As soon as you hear about a thunderstorm watch you should rehearse your plans. Make sure you know where your shoes or boots, helmet, heavy clothes, and flashlight are located. Think through where you will take shelter and how you will get there. Identify where family members are and make sure they are prepared on a moments notice to get to shelter. Bring in your pets. Keep them close so you don’t waste time looking for them when the watch turns to warning.
When a tornado watch is issued put on your shoes or boots, kennel your pets or get them on their leashes, gather your other protective items and be ready to move to shelter immediately.
If you are in a tornado watch and the conditions become concerning to you, or when a tornado warning is issued immediately move to shelter.