If you’ve ever seen a tornado, you know what a powerful and terrifying thing this unpredictable natural disaster can be. If you live in a place where a tornado is possible (like “Tornado Alley”) you need to make preparations. You will want to know what to do if a tornado should make its way to your neighborhood!
It’s a little late in the year to be stressing the importance of preparedness for tornado’s, however, there are still areas (Southern States) that may be impacted late into the year.
Typically, every year from March to May, Midwest and southern states are plagued by tornadoes. Northern states’ risks are slightly later, from late spring to early summer. Tornadoes are unpredictable, sudden, violent columns of rotating air that pick up dirt, debris, and even very large items and toss them like pick-up sticks. The winds of most tornadoes reach speeds of over 100 miles an hour, and some have been clocked at over 300 miles per hour.
What makes a tornado truly dangerous is its unpredictability. It can descend from the clouds without warning and disappear just as quickly. And tornadoes do not follow a predictable path. They can make 90-degree turns without warning. And they are harder to spot and track from satellites.
You can only be sure there’s a tornado nearby by seeing it. Or you may hear the sound of a train roaring where no track have been laid. There’s not much you can do to protect your home and property from tornado damage. The sad fact is, if a tornado wants your house, it will get your house.
But there are certain precautions you can take to protect yourself from the ravages of the deadly tornado.
How Can I tell if a Tornado is Likely?
- A tornado looks like a funnel. Some are long and spindly, and some are thick and wide. The long thin tornado is more unpredictable, acting like a whip across the landscape. But a thick,wide tornado may pack higher winds.
- Tornadoes are associated with severe thunderstorms (called supercells), particularly where air temperatures are significantly less than ground temperatures.
- Tornadoes may occur right before or after a cold or warm front has passed through the area.
- Tornadoes are frequently present when there is heavy rain, hail, and powerful winds during a thunderstorm.
- Residents of Tornado Alley report a subtle greenish-tint to clouds that form tornado funnels.
How Will I Know When the Tornado Will Hit my House?
- Winds and rain may decrease suddenly immediately before a tornado strikes.
- Tornadoes are more likely at the leading edge and trailing end of a severe thunderstorm.
- There is usually a lot of dust and debris in the air around a tornado, even when you can’t see the funnel. Close-up, the tornado may resemble a violent low-lying cloud.
- Because the air is rotating at high speeds, you may see debris rotating in a circular whirling path.
- Immediately before a tornado hits, you can hear what sounds like an on-coming freight train. That is the sound of the high-speed wind.
What Can I do to Protect Myself?
- If you see a tornado, or if the sky becomes suddenly darer and takes on a violet to greenish glow, take cover. While you may not be hit directly by the tornado, you can be severely injured by flying debris.
- Tornadoes tend to follow higher ground. If you are outdoors, find a ditch or trench if you can’t find cover. Many people find shelter on the highway at underpasses. Do not stay in your car, as it will offer little protection. Lie flat, and cover your head.
- Storm cellars or basements are the safest place to go during a tornado. But if you don’t haveone in your house, try to find a central location with few windows or glass doors. If the glass breaks, you could be hurt or killed by severe lacerations.
- If you are in an apartment or tall building, seek shelter near the center of the building. Bathrooms and kitchens seem to offer more protection because the pipes make the walls stronger. Sometimes whole structures disappear, but the bathroom or an interior closet remains.
When the storm has passed, it’s time to assess the damage and begin to recover. You may find pieces of furniture or personal items miles away, undamaged. You may find a fragile straw implanted through a tree or phone pole. Tornadoes have almost mystical powers and do some very strange things.
Community clean-up and support are tremendously important after a tornado. Coming with little warning and wiping out whole lifetimes leaves victims drained and feeling powerless. If you are a victim, seek support from neighbors and family. If you are, offer your support to those who have suffered.