tornado safety tips

What to do before, during and after a tornado hits

Question: Tornadoes can be categorized from EF0 (weakest) to EF5 (most violent with winds exceeding 205 mph). Can you guess what percentage of tornadoes in the US reached EF5 status?

Select: 1 in 1,000 1 in 100 1 in 10

Fortunately only about 1 in 1,000 tornadoes in the United States reach the strongest category (EF5) while 75% fall into one of the weakest two categories (EF0 and EF1). EF5 tornadoes account for 70% of tornado-related deaths with weak tornadoes causing less than 5% of deaths.

The year 2011 brought 1,691 tornadoes across the US and broke a couple all-time records: Most tornadoes in a single month (758 in April) and most tornadoes in a single day (200 on April 27th). Unfortunately, there were also 551 fatalities, far surpassing the US's annual average of 70.

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Though no shelter can be 100% safe against all tornadoes, there are things we can do before, during and after a tornado to increase our chances of surviving and minimizing the devastation.

Preparing a tornado readiness plan

  • Know where to go in the event of a tornado:
    • If you're in a house, school, office or other permanent structure:
      • The best option is an interior room in the basement or the lowest possible level, away from outer walls and windows. You want as many walls between you and the outside as possible since flying debris causes most tornado-related deaths and injuries.
      • Be mindful of what may be immediately above you (you would not want to be directly below a piano, refrigerator or other heavy object which may fall from the floor above).
      • Store outdoor lawn furniture which may become airborne and secure large indoor objects (water heater, bookcases, china hutch, etc.,) which may topple over.
      • Know where and how to turn off gas, electricity and water.
      • Become familiar with the emergency plan at your school, office, daycare, etc. If none exists, volunteer to help create one.
    • If you're in a mobile home: Do NOT stay inside a mobile home or trailer -- they provide little protection against a tornado, even if they are tied down.
      • If possible, go to a more permanent shelter.
      • If no more-secure structure is available, lay flat, face-down in a ditch, gully or other low-lying area and cover head with arms.
    • If you're in a vehicle and encounter flying debris: Cars, buses and trucks provide the least amount of protection against a tornado.
      • If a more-secure structure is not available, park; leave your vehicle; and get to a low-lying ditch or gully. Lie flat, face-down and cover your head with arms.
      • Do NOT seek shelter under your vehicle, under a bridge or overpass (which can create a tunnel effect) or in an area with lots of trees.
  • Prepare an emergency supplies kit. Since 911 emergency responders may be overwhelmed after an emergency, your ability to cope can impact your odds of survival. At a minimum, your emergency supply kit should contain:
    • Water, food, and medicines sufficient for 3 days.
    • Protective materials like mattress, thick blankets, pillows or sleeping bags which can be used to further shield you from flying debris. Even a football, motorcycle, construction or biking helmet can help.
    • Copies of important documents like birth certificates, insurance policies and financial records.
    • Flashlight, battery operated radio, cell phone, spare batteries, first aid kit, extra clothing.
    • A more complete list of suggested survival supplies has been prepared at http://www.ready.gov/document/family-supply-list
  • Decide how your family members will communicate during an emergency. In times when phone lines are overwhelmed, text messaging may still possible. Designate an out-of-state friend or relative to become your emergency contact and have their number programmed into your phones.

Question: Is it wise to open windows as a tornado is approaching, in order to equalize pressure within the home?

Select: Yes No

Don't waste valuable time opening windows; the practice does nothing to protect the structure of a building and wastes valuable time that you could be using to seek shelter. Being near the windows also puts you at greater risk of being struck by flying glass.


What to do at the time of a tornado

  • Stay informed of weather updates with a battery powered radio or, better yet, a NOAA weather radio. The tone-alert feature on a NOAA weather radio will automatically alert you of severe weather watches or warnings in your area.
  • Be familiar with these weather terms: A tornado watch for your area means that conditions are favorable for a tornado to develop so you should remain alert. A tornado warning for your area means that a tornado has been spotted or is imminent (based on radar) so you should seek immediate cover.
  • In addition to seeking shelter in your pre-determined location (described in the section above), get under a heavy table, staircase or shelf which may provide additional protection. Cover your head with hands and arms or, if possible, cover yourself with a heavy blanket, sleeping bag or mattress. In a store or office, get under heavy shelving, a counter or desk. Follow your tornado preparedness plan.

Question: You may have heard of "Tornado Alley", a swatch of the central US (reaching from Nebraska through Texas) that tends to experience the most frequent and severe tornadoes. What different section of the country tends to suffer the most tornado-related fatalities?

Select: Rocky Mountain states Southeastern US

average number of tornadoes by US regionDixie Alley, which includes much of the Southeastern US (Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Louisiana) tends to suffer the most tornado-related deaths each year. The area's tornado frequency and voracity is slightly less than that of Tornado Alley but tornadoes in the Southeast tend to be spread out over more months, move faster and occur at night more often. In addition the area has a greater population density and a greater percentage of manufactured (formerly called mobile or trailer) homes. Approximately 44% of all tornado-related fatalities in the US involve manufactured homes.


What to do after a tornado

In the case of a Marion, Illinois tornado in 1982, half of all tornado-related injuries occurred AFTER the tornado during the rescue efforts and cleanup. The most common injuries were caused by stepping on nails, cuts and being struck by falling or rolling objects.

  • Stay tuned to local news stations or the National Weather Service
  • Wear sturdy shoes, long sleeved shirt and gloves when handling or moving through debris.
  • Turn off electricity and gas lines. If a gas leak is possible, never smoke, light a match, use candles for lighting, turn on electrical lights or do anything that could cause a spark. Also, if you suspect a gas leak, open the windows, leave the home and notify the police or fire department.
  • Avoid walking near fallen power lines or in water which may be in contact with fallen power lines.
Sources (Accessed April 27, 2012)
http://bss.fnal.gov/fire/Tornado.pdf
http://www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/safety.html
http://www.spc.noaa.gov/climo/online/monthly/newm.html
http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/severeweather/tornadoes.html
http://www.ready.gov/tornadoes
http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/edu/safety/tornadoguide.html
http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/tornadoes/prepared.asp
http://www.michigan.gov/documents/msp-tornado_tips_8781_7.pdf
http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/tornadoes/after.asp
http://www.srh.noaa.gov/media/jan/Newsletter/The_Arklamiss_%20Observer_spring2010.pdf
http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/HAW2/pdf/building_safe_room.pdf
http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/2011_tornado_information.html
http://www.spc.noaa.gov/climo/torn/2011deadlytorn.html
http://www.noaawatch.gov/themes/severe.php
http://www.state.il.us/iema/disaster/pdf/severeweatherpreparedness.pdf

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Showing comment(s)
Alex
April 29, 2012
Some things to add to your "what to do after a tornado" list are to take pictures of any damage so you'll have proof for insurance and, once you've evacuated a damaged building, stay out until the structure has been deemed safe for you to reenter. Thanks for sharing your tips.
Tamara G.
April 30, 2012
I've read that mobile homes can act almost like a sail as far as getting picked up and thrown by a tornado. I thought that was an interesting analogy in case someone ever has last minute thoughts of trying to wait out a tornado in a mobile home.
Can Man
April 31, 2012
As for your list of things to do before a tornado - meet with your insurance agent every couple of years to make sure you're keeping up with the cost of rebuilding your home.
 
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