It has been a difficult spring season. After surprise snowstorms, warm air moved in rapidly, creating a tornado hazard that has swept across the center of the country. The tragedies in Moore and Newcastle, Oklahoma, and tornadoes that have swept across the Midwestern and Southern United States, just in the month of May 2013, remind us of the destructive power nature can wreak upon us. Many who have been caught in the path of these storms did not have the necessary life tools or plans to protect themselves. In this series, you can find information about tornadoes and how to prepare your own life tools that can save your life and the lives of others.
Subscribe to get free, instant updates on sustainable living on usedview.com
- Are you on Facebook? Follow Christina
- Contact Christina via email if interested in submitting ideas or to have her answer questions you may have. Follow her on Twitter @3Rivers_Writer
This writer does not endorse any company or products, even if they are mentioned in her articles.
Understand tornado facts
Tornadoes are rotating, funnel-shaped clouds that extend from a thunderstorm cell (grouping of clouds) to the ground. Some signs of tornadoes can include: Dark, greenish skies; large hail; dark low-lying clouds; rotating clouds; a loud roaring sound similar to a fast-moving train; wind moving towards the storm instead of away from it.
Tornadoes can occur in the air and never touch ground. Their winds can reach 300 miles per hour at times. Their path of destruction can be short or in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long. Tornadoes are often visible, but can also become wrapped in heavy rain and not seen. Tornadoes can develop so rapidly that little to no advanced warning is possible.
During many tornadoes, the breeze or wind may completely calm and the air become still. A tornado can still happen even if you see sunny skies behind a thunderstorm. Some tornadoes are visible only due to clouds of debris along the ground’s surface. They frequently occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm.
The peak tornado season in the southern states is typically between March through May. In the northern states, it is typically spring through early summer. Tornadoes often peak between 3 pm and 9 pm, but it is important to note that tornadoes are unpredictable. Some have occurred in November. Some have occurred as early as February in some locations.
It no longer holds true that tornadoes always come from the south-west and move north-east. Depending on different atmospheric conditions, a tornado can come from virtually any direction.
Understanding what a tornado is and how to be aware of storms is a key factor in preparing for them.
Use a NOAA weather radio to begin storm plan
To be prepared for storms such as tornadoes, it is important that you have a plan in the event that you or your family are caught in the path of the storm. The first thing on your plan list should be to have a NOAA weather alert radio. The brands differ, but they all have one very important task; to alert you when severe weather is observed and give instructions about storm paths and safety information.
Many communities do not have tornado warning sirens and there is a general trend now to encourage weather alert radios be used instead of counting on outdoor sirens. Sirens are generally difficult to hear inside a structure, such as your home, and are meant to warn people caught outdoors. Many city and county emergency management teams are encouraging people to carry a weather alert device (and there are hand-held models available on the market) with them wherever they go. There are even smart phone apps that can be downloaded for free that give you accessibility to storm information.
Once you have a weather radio, you need to learn how to program it so that you get alerts for your area. You can visit NOAA’s site to get instructions and the codes to make your weather radio work for you.
Prepare your children for storms and tornadoes
The next step in setting up an emergency plan for families should be to inform children about storms and tornadoes. Every parent’s nightmare is the loss of a child.
Teach them what thunderstorms and tornadoes are.
Prepare them with information about the differences between watches and warnings.
Make sure they know what county or parish they live in.
Help them understand when it is time to take shelter at home or at school and make sure they are able to do this.
Hold tornado drills and make sure that everyone understands what to do and where to go.
Watches are issued when there is a potential weather hazard. Warnings are issued when a weather hazard is indicated on weather sites or is visibly recorded. Even if warning sirens do not go off, the NOAA weather radio can tell your children when these events are underway, so make sure they know how to use it.
A home first-aid kit should be prepared beforehand and fully stocked with supplies. Teaching your children basic first aid should be a priority. Having a fire extinguisher and helping them learn how to use it in case of a fire is important as well. If your children are too young to do these things, make sure that they understand the safest location for shelter.
Most schools have an emergency dismissal policy. You should be aware of it and teaching your children how to contact you in the case of an emergency is very important.
Know how to turn off your utilities. Water, gas and electricity are a necessary part of our lives these days. If a tornado is approaching, knowing how to turn off the switches and/or valves could keep your shelter even safer. Marking these locations and teaching your children how to turn them off is helpful, but the utilities should only be shut off if there is time to do so. Don’t risk your lives or theirs if extreme danger is imminent.
Make a checklist of your home before the storm season
These suggestions can reduce the risk for serious injury during and/or after a tornado. Remember, the risk is high and even though you’ve thoroughly prepared, not every risk can be accounted for.
Inspect your home for hazards:
Chairs, sofas and beds near windows, mirrors or large pictures should be relocated in your home to protect from glass shards. (Don’t do this as a storm approaches – do it right away)
Place items stored on shelves more than 30 inches high in the following manner; heavy stuff on the bottom.
Safely store poisons, solvents and toxic materials away from your safe room or shelter.
If in a mobile or modular home, check to see if you have hurricane straps and/or bolts that hold your structure securely to a foundation or slab.
Secure large appliances, top-heavy furniture and water heater.
Place lawn furniture and yard items inside a sturdy structure if storms are predicted to prevent them from being tossed by high winds
Secure shutters and windows.
One of the most common injuries seen in tornado storms is impalement. It isn’t uncommon for tornadoes to topple trees, but the same goes for loose lumber. Sometimes pieces of wood are completely embedded into the outer walls of homes and standing structures.
What to do if you are caught outdoors during a tornado emergency
If you are in a vehicle, you should make sure your safety belt is on. Never try to out-run a tornado. Parking beneath an underpass is not recommended. The underpass often serves as a wind-tunnel and can quickly suck vehicles away. If possible, drive to the nearest safe shelter location and then leave your vehicle.
If you are not in a vehicle, you should try to walk as quickly as possible to a near-by shelter. If not shelter is found in a very short time, it is recommended that you find a ditch or lower-lying area, flatten yourself face-first onto the ground and cover your head with your arms and hands.
Basic emergency supplies in case of tornado event
In addition to a first-aid kit, there are basic supplies you should have ready at a moment’s notice in the event that a tornado occurs. Keeping these supplies in a safe room that is well-ventilated or in a cellar/basement will aid in your survival during the event, but also after the storm has moved on. Store the items in a waterproof container that can easily be carried and/or moved if necessary.
Have a battery powered radio (with weather band if possible) or crank radio.
A flashlight for every member of your household. LED flashlights and lanterns are highly recommended. Resist the urge to use candles or any item that provides light that is fueled with flammables to prevent fires. There are even crank flashlights and lanterns, but constantly cranking them is energy that is best spent only when other light sources fail.
Extra batteries for the radio and flashlights.
Water – one gallon per person (three-day supplies are recommended)
Canned or dry food (three-day supplies are recommended) stored in waterproof container(s). Store food that is nonperishable, doesn’t need to be cooked and is easy to consume. Remember food for children if they are sheltering with you, including baby formula.
Cell phone and/or land line (if it is portable)
Keep your important documents safe from storms
The following documents are very important. Storing them in a fire- and water-proof safe is your best option. Make sure you keep the safe in a sheltered area, like your safe room or cellar/basement. You will want access to these items after the storm has passed.
Birth certificates of each member of your household
Ownership certificates (autos, boats, etc.)
Social security cards
1. List of contents of household; include serial numbers, if applicable
2. Photographs or videotape of contents of every room
3. Photographs of items of high values, such as jewelry, paintings, collection items
Create a safe sheltering location
If your location has no basement or cellar, the most protected area is the center of an interior room on the lowest level. Make sure your area is away from windows, doors, outside walls and corners. The important thing is to make sure that there are as many walls as possible between you and the outside of your structure. Below ground is the best option. Do not open your windows. Cover yourself with blankets and if possible, gather beneath a sturdy item of furniture. Protect yourself from flying debris, especially your head.
Many who live in storm- and tornado-prone areas have built safe rooms. These can be expensive commercially. If you are interested in making your own, there are instructions on the FEMA site that include details about making your room sturdier and safer.
If there are people sheltering with you that have accessibility issues, disabled or ill, you can still provide necessary shelter that accommodates them. For those in wheelchairs that are unable to walk, move them away from windows and if possible, into your shelter. If you cannot relocate them to a basement, for example, move them to an interior room and cover them with blankets. If they are able to lay down with assistance, they should be placed beneath a sturdy piece of furniture like a table or desk. For those that are bed-ridden or unable to move from a chair, protect them with blankets and pillows. Move the bed and/or chair away from windows.
Don’t forget your pets. They will need shelter as well. If possible, take them with you into your interior room or cellar/basement. Make sure they have a collar with identification on it and take a leash or pet carrier/dog crate with you. Pets are often terrified during simple storms. Imagine how they feel during a tornado emergency. Store food and water for them as well.
What to do after a tornado
Make sure that you are alright and check your family and those who have sheltered with you. Just because you were not hurt does not mean that everyone else is. Apply first-aid if necessary and call 911 to report all injuries. Gather your family into a safe location, including your pets.
You should assume that amongst rubble and debris there may be downed wires. Avoiding the wires and any objects that are touching or in contact with the wire will keep you from being shocked accidentally. Call the utility company or 911 of the downed power line as soon as possible.
Make sure you are wearing appropriate clothing items when you leave your shelter if possible. As you encounter debris and hazards, a pair of hard-soled boots or shoes can help protect you. Stay clear of debris as much as possible and do not re-enter your home or shelter until it has been deemed safe to do so.
There will likely be injured and/or trapped people. If you are able, assist police, fire and emergency response teams in providing first aid. If you are aware of a trapped individual or people that are injured, contact 911 immediately so that aid will be notified. Only move seriously injured people if further danger is imminent.
Use battery-operated light sources. Do not use any light source that is fueled by flammable materials or candles. If gas lines have been broken, it can fill a neighborhood or town. Any spark can set off an explosion that would only add to the disaster. Leave the area if you smell gas or there are open flames or toxins.
Call your family members or important contacts to let them know you are safe. After that, you should only use your phone for emergencies. Too many times during tragedies people have completely shut down cell towers and telecommunication grids with unnecessary calls. Meanwhile, those who need immediate help cannot get through to emergency personnel.
If you have a camera, especially on your cell phone, take photos of your property from the outside. Once it is safe to enter your property once again, take photos of the interior, its contents and damage so that you can give the information to your insurance company or relief agencies.
Turn off the utilities to your home or shelter if safe to do so.
Be aware of any new weather developments and prepare to shelter once more if necessary in a safe location.