As evidenced by the multiple tornadoes that struck the St. Louis area this past weekend, the 2011 tornado season is upon us! Rapidly movingviolent storms can cause tornadoes with little, if any, warning.
It is very important to always maintain a level of situational awareness when at home, work and on travel. Extreme weather conditions this time of the year can be deadly, so be alert to local news broadcasts and have yourNOAA Weather Radio with Specific Area Message Encoder technology (SAME) at the ready, so you’ll know when to take protective cover.
A Tornado Watch essentially means that conditions are favorable for tornadoes to develop. In this case you should be alert to changes in the weather and take precautions to protect yourself, family, and your property. Particular attention should be made when attending outdoor events, traveling and partaking in recreational activities. When a Tornado Watch has been declared by the National Weather Service, you should at least take the following precautions.
- Move vehicles inside a garage or carport for protection and/or rapid accessibility. Keep your car keys and house keys with you.
- Move lawn furniture and yard equipment such as lawnmowers inside if time permits. If you have a pool, you can throw lawn furniture into the water so it does not become a “flying projectile hazard”.
- Account for family members at home, work, day care or school.
- Have your emergency kit ready.
- Keep your radio, local television and, especially your NOAA Weather Radio, tuned into the weather reports for your area.
A Tornado Warning means that a tornado has actually been sighted. If you are fortunate, some communities may sound a tornado siren warning of the approaching tornado. Tornadoes can be violent, deadly and devastating storms, with wind speeds of up to 260 miles per hour. If a Tornado Warning is issued for your area, seek protective shelter immediately! There is little time for closing windows or looking for flashlights. It’s a good idea to know where things are and to have an emergency preparedness system already staged and ready to go.
- Know the warning signals used in your community. If a siren sounds, that means stay inside and take cover. Many communities like ours here in Greene County Virginia, have a computerized telephone notification that automatically calls home and cell phones with emergency alerts.
- Have an actionable emergency plan.
- Put together an emergency sustainment system including a NOAA Weather Radio, flashlight, spare batteries, first-aid medical supplies, water and food items in a rugged waterproof container.
- Make a complete detailed video/photographic and written inventory of your household and personal possessions for insurance purposes.
- Conduct tornado drills in your office and a home with your family. Make sure each employee and/or family member knows the correct procedures if they are at work or school when a tornado hits. This includes the location of the storm safe room.
During the Tornado
The safest place to be during a tornado is underground. This includes the basement, cellar or underground storm shelter. In any case you want something strong and safe above your head. If there’s no basement or cellar in your home, a small room in the middle of the house — like a bathroom or a closet — is best. The more walls between you and the outside, the better.
Stay away from windows, as broken glass shards become deadly airborne projectiles in high winds. Never take time to open windows. There is a myth which claims opening windows can reduce damage to a home. Not true! First things to go during a tornado are those windows which are immediately converted to flying shrapnel!
- Residents in mobile homes (even those with tie-downs) should seek safe shelter elsewhere at the first sign of severe weather. Hurricane straps or mobile home tie-downs do not protect against the severe winds and flying debris associated with tornadoes.
- Evacuate to a community storm shelter or make arrangements with friends or relatives ahead of time to their house when the weather gets ugly.
- If you live in a mobile home park, talk to management about the availability and location of a nearby shelter. Often times such parks will have recreational or laundry facilities which can be used for shelter in case of tornadoes.
- As a last resort, seek shelter by laying flat in a ditch or culvert with your hands over your head and neck to offer some protection against flying debris. However, do be alert for flash floods that often accompany such storms.
Driving in a Vehicle During a Tornado
- Just two days ago, the tornado that ripped through Lambert-St. Louis International Airport lifted a 128,000 lb. (empty weight) Boeing 757 full of passengers into the air and relocated the aircraft 20 feet distant from where it was originally parked. Just think what a tornado can do to the family sedan! Tornadoes toss cars and large trucks around like toys. Never try to outrun a tornado. Even if the tornado doesn’t directly impact your vehicle, the strong winds associated with any such storm can easily flip a vehicle of just about any size.
- If you see a funnel cloud or hear a tornado warning issued on the radio or by siren, get out of your vehicle and seek a safe structure. In the worst case scenario, lie down in a ditch, culvert or other low area with your hands covering the back of your head and neck for protection. Just remember to keep alert for flash floods!
- Do not seek shelter under an overpass or bridge. These might seem like safe havens during a tornado, but, in fact, are just the opposite.
- All public schools are required to have a reliable method for monitoring for severe weather – including tornadoes. They are also required to have emergency evacuation plans with designated personnel to facilitate such plans. Educate yourself! Make sure you know what those plans are for whatever school facility in which you may be.
- If a specific shelter area does not exist, move into interior hallways or small rooms on the building’s lowest level. Avoid areas with glass and wide, free-span roofs such as gymnasiums and auditoriums.
- If you can’t get into a basement or designated shelter, move to the center of the lowest level of the building, away from windows, lie flat, and cover the back of your head and neck for protection with your hands.
Office Buildings, Stores, Shopping Malls or Airports
- First, seek the designated shelter area.
- If you can’t reach the shelter, take refuge in an interior hallway on a low floor. A closet or bathroom may also provide you some protection against flying debris or collapsing structures. Deaths in large buildings are often attributed to the collapse of wide-span roofs or walls.
- Stay away from large, open rooms and windows. Never seek shelter in cars in the parking lot.
This is a safety list that can certainly be improved upon, so do your research and stay safe during storm season!