My heartfelt prayers go out to those affected by the recent swath of tornadoes. The closest I've been to a tornado was about 25 years ago when a friend of mine got married in Tulsa. That was my first time in Oklahoma. My first time in a Walmart. My first time in a restaurant bathroom with watered-down soap in the soap dispenser. My first time with a tornado watch. Fortunately it wasn't a warning because I had no idea what to do. Instead I was really excited and hoped that I'd get to experience a tornado. Boy was I an idiot.
Being more preparedness minded I've learned the right way and wrong way to react to tornado watches and warnings. Although I don't live in tornado country I do travel which means at some point I may be affected. You may too, as tornadoes can appear almost anywhere, even here in California although the known tornadoes have caused little damage.
Each year about a thousand tornadoes touch down in the US. Only a small percentage actually strike occupied buildings, but every year people are killed or injured. The chances that a tornado will strike a you are small, however, and you can greatly reduce the chance of injury by doing a few simple things.
If a Tornado Watch is issued:
If a Tornado Watch is issued:
- Keep alert to the weather and watch for changing conditions.
- Keep the radio, tv, or weather station on to listen for updates.
- Talk to your family (and coworkers if you are at work) about your emergency plan. While you may be thinking we already know it, you always give a briefing to discuss the plan. Gets everyone focused!
- Make sure everyone knows where your disaster kit is. Again, this isn't something to start to put together, this is already done.
- Change your shoes. Wear your work boots. Have your gloves on (or in your pocket).
- Be ready to seek shelter at a moments notice. My cousins live in tornado alley. They have a hardened room in their basement. If someone in the household isn't outside conducting their own tornado watch the family is inside that room when they are in the house. Overkill perhaps (but not if you consider their previous house was flattened during a tornado). It's set up with a kitchen, beds, etc. and many of their survival stores are kept in that room.
If you are outside during a Tornado Watch look for these signs:
- Orange-gray or dark greenish sky,
- Large hail (if there is a watch or warning posted),
- A strange quiet within or shortly after the thunderstorm,
- Clouds moving by very fast, especially in a rotating pattern or converging toward one area of the sky,
- Large, dark, low-lying, rotating or funnel-shaped clouds,
- A "cloud wall",
- A sound a little like a waterfall or rushing air at first, but turning into a roar as it comes closer. The sound of a tornado has been likened to that of both railroad trains and jets,
- Branches or leaves being pulled upwards even if no funnel cloud is visible.
If a Tornado Warning (a tornado has been spotted!) is issued:
- Take shelter immediately,
- Listen to your local radio for updates,
- If you are in a building go to the shelter if there is one. Otherwise go to the lowest level such as a basement. If there isn't a basement take shelter in the center of an interior room on the lowest level, such as a bathroom -inside the bathtub is a good location, closet or interior hallway that is away from corners, windows, doors and outside walls. Put on your coat to help protect you from cuts.
- Do not seek shelter in a mobile home. They offer very little protection.
- If you are outside and not by shelter lie down in a ditch, ravine, or depression. Cover your head with your hands. Your biggest exposure will be flying debris!