Twister 101 – What to do Before, During & After!

Given the traumatic and devastating tornados that pummeled Texas this past week, the widespread damage and powerful tornadoes over the past few days, and the fact that we are now in the midst of tornado season, WeatherBug feels it is important that you Know Before™ when it comes to tornado safety. Below, you’ll find some great tips from FEMA, NOAA and the WeatherBug Meteorology team!

Credit: NOAA Photo Library via Flickr

Credit: NOAA Photo Library via Flickr

Some things you should know about twisters:

  • They may strike quickly, with little or no warning.
  • They may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms in the funnel.
  • The average tornado moves Southwest to Northeast, but tornadoes have been known to move in any direction.
  • The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 mph, but may vary from stationary to 70 mph.
  • Tornadoes can accompany tropical storms and hurricanes as they move onto land.
  • Waterspouts are tornadoes that form over water.
  • Tornadoes are most frequently reported east of the Rocky Mountains during spring and summer months.
  • Peak tornado season in the southern states is March through May; in the northern states, it is late spring through early summer.
  • Tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3 pm and 9 pm, but can occur at any time.

Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a tornado hazard:

  • Tornado Watch – Tornadoes are possible. Remain alert for approaching storms. Watch the sky and stay tuned to WeatherBug  for information.
  • Tornado Warning – A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Take shelter immediately.
Credit: http://www.etsso.org/

Credit: http://www.etsso.org/

BEFORE – Tornado Planning

First off, it is very important that you and/or your family have a tornado plan in place if you live in an area where twisters are prevalent. Know where you can take shelter in a matter of seconds, and practice a family tornado drill at least once a year.

Have a pre-determined place to meet after a disaster and communication plans (how you will get to a safe place; how you will contact one another; how you will get back together). You’ll also want to build a kit well in advance of an emergency (food, water and other supplies that will last for at least 72 hours). Additionally, basic services such as electricity, gas, water, sewage treatment and telephones may be cut off for days or even a week, or longer. Your supplies kit should contain items to help you manage during these outages.

Flying debris is the greatest danger in tornadoes; so store protective coverings (such as a mattress, sleeping bags, thick blankets, etc.) in or next to your shelter space, ready to use on a few seconds’ notice. When a tornado watch is issued, think about the drill and check to make sure all your safety supplies are handy. Turn on local TV, radio, go to WeatherBug.com or download the WeatherBug application and stay alert for warnings.

Forget about the old notion of opening windows to equalize pressure; the tornado will blast open the windows for you! If you shop frequently at certain stores, learn where there are bathrooms, storage rooms or other interior shelter areas away from windows, and the shortest ways to get there.

Memorize the following signs of a twister:

  • Strong, persistent rotation in the cloud base.
  • Whirling dust or debris on the ground under a cloud base — tornadoes sometimes have no funnel!
  • Hail or heavy rain followed by either dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift. Many tornadoes are wrapped in heavy precipitation and can’t be seen.
  • Day or night – Loud, continuous roar or rumble, which doesn’t fade in a few seconds like thunder (some say it sounds like a freight train).
  • Night – Small, bright, blue-green to white flashes at ground level near a thunderstorm (as opposed to silvery lightning up in the clouds). These mean power lines are being snapped by very strong wind, maybe a tornado.
  • Night – Persistent lowering from the cloud base, illuminated or silhouetted by lightning — especially if it is on the ground or there is a blue-green-white power flash underneath.
Credit: The National Guard via Flickr

Credit: The National Guard via Flickr

DURING – Seek Shelter Immediately!

If you are under a tornado warning, seek shelter immediately!  Most injuries associated with high winds are from flying debris, so remember to protect your head.

IF YOU ARE IN: THEN:
A structure (e.g. residence, small building, school, nursing home, hospital, factory, shopping center, high-rise building)
  • Go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level. If there is no basement, go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck.
  • In a high-rise building, go to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible.
  • Put on sturdy shoes.
  • Do not open windows.
A trailer or mobile home
  • Get out immediately and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building or a storm shelter. Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes.
The outside with no shelter
  • Immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter.
  • If your vehicle is hit by flying debris while you are driving, pull over and park.
  • Stay in the car with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows; cover your head with your hands and a blanket, coat or other cushion if possible.
  • If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, leave your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands
  • Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location.
  • Never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a car or truck. Instead, leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter.
  • Watch out for flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.
Credit: Official Navy Page via Flickr

Credit: Official Navy Page via Flickr

AFTER – Injuries and Safety

Check for injuries. Do not attempt to move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Get medical assistance immediately. If someone has stopped breathing, begin CPR if you are trained to do so. Stop a bleeding injury by applying direct pressure to the wound. Have any puncture wound evaluated by a physician. If you are trapped, try to attract attention to your location.

Here are some safety precautions that could help you avoid injury after a tornado:

  • Continue to monitor your battery-powered radio or television for emergency information.
  • Be careful when entering any structure that has been damaged.
  • Wear sturdy shoes or boots, long sleeves and gloves when handling or walking on or near debris.
  • Be aware of hazards from exposed nails and broken glass.
  • Do not touch downed power lines or objects in contact with downed lines. Report electrical hazards to the police and the utility company.
  • Use battery-powered lanterns, if possible, rather than candles to light homes without electrical power. If you use candles, make sure they are in safe holders away from curtains, paper, wood or other flammable items. Never leave a candle burning when you are out of the room.
  • Never use generators, pressure washers, grills, camp stoves or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside your home, basement, garage or camper – or even outside near an open window, door or vent. Carbon monoxide (CO) – an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if you breathe it – from these sources can build up in your home, garage or camper and poison the people and animals inside. Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed or nauseated.
  • Hang up displaced telephone receivers that may have been knocked off by the tornado, but stay off the telephone, except to report an emergency.
  • Cooperate fully with public safety officials.
  • Respond to requests for volunteer assistance by police, fire fighters, emergency management and relief organizations, but do not go into damaged areas unless assistance has been requested. Your presence could hamper relief efforts and you could endanger yourself.

Inspecting the damage precautions:

  • After a tornado, be aware of possible structural, electrical or gas-leak hazards in your home. Contact your local city or county building inspectors for information on structural safety codes and standards. They may also offer suggestions on finding a qualified contractor to do work for you.
  • In general, if you suspect any damage to your home, shut off electrical power, natural gas and propane tanks to avoid fire, electrocution or explosions.
  • If it is dark when you are inspecting your home, use a flashlight rather than a candle or torch to avoid the risk of fire or explosion in a damaged home.
  • If you see frayed wiring or sparks, or if there is an odor of something burning, you should immediately shut off the electrical system at the main circuit breaker if you have not done so already.
  • If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open all windows and leave the house immediately. Notify the gas company, the police or fire departments, or State Fire Marshal’s office and do not turn on the lights, light matches, smoke or do anything that could cause a spark. Do not return to your house until you are told it is safe to do so.

Safety during clean up:

  • Wear sturdy shoes or boots, long sleeves and gloves.
  • Learn proper safety procedures and operating instructions before operating any gas-powered or electric-powered saws or tools.
  • Clean up spilled medicines, drugs, flammable liquids and other potentially hazardous materials.
Credit: NOAA Photo Library via Flickr

Credit: NOAA Photo Library via Flickr

Fewer thunderstorms rumble across the Plains each year, but the storms form in an area where the chance for tornadoes is higher in the spring and early summer because the conditions for tornadoes are more favorable.

If you live in a high-risk area (shown in the map above), be sure to download WeatherBug on your mobile phone to get the fastest severe weather alerts so you stay ahead of the curve and Know Before™ danger strikes:

Download WeatherBug w/ Spark for Android:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.aws.android

Download WeatherBug w/ Spark for iPhone:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/weatherbug/id281940292

 

Credit: US Army Corps via Flickr

Credit: US Army Corps via Flickr

 

Additional information:

Know the Facts – http://www.ready.gov/kids/know-facts

Be Informed – http://www.ready.gov/tornadoes

 

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