“It sounded like a freight train.” This is a common description from those who have experienced one of nature’s most violent phenomena: a tornado. Advances in research and technology have improved identification and measurement of critical elements of super cell storm systems, which makes predicting and identifying the development of a tornado far more effective. However, once the prediction is made or an actual tornado is identified, the responsibility falls on every individual to be prepared to respond appropriately for his or her own safety and well-being.
So, where do you begin? In this blog, I will share frequently asked questions and the answers I have learned through years of education and personal experience. I hold a master’s degree in disaster preparedness and have trained with the National Weather Service Severe Storm Prediction Center, but most importantly, I spent 20 years living in the heart of tornado alley. Let’s get started…
Does my community have tornado sirens? What do they sound like? Can I hear them from my home or business?
It is standard practice for communities to have set days and times for testing tornado warning systems. If you do not know when this is, contact your local police department, emergency management office, or fire department to find out the test schedule. Then, be prepared to participate when the test is scheduled to occur. Make sure you can hear the siren and commit the sound to memory so you know what it means if you hear it again. Help your staff or family to know what this particular siren sound means. Let city officials know if you cannot hear a siren when the test was scheduled to occur; they can identify equipment failures, consider the need for system enhancements, and make appropriate changes to ensure you are properly alerted. Knowing the system test schedule can help you differentiate between a test and a life threatening event.
What is the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning?
Tornado WATCH: Be prepared! A tornado watch is issued by NOAA Storm Prediction Center meteorologists who monitor the weather 24/7 across the entire United States for weather conditions that are favorable for tornadoes. A watch area is typically large and can cover parts of a state or several states. A tornado watch means that tornadoes are possible in the area. Keep watch and be prepared for severe weather – and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio to know when warnings are issued.
Tornado WARNING: Take action! A tornado warning is issued by your local NOAA National Weather Service Forecast Office meteorologists who monitor the weather 24/7 over a designated area to identify tornados. A warning area is much more targeted and can cover parts of counties or several counties in the path of danger. A tornado warning means that a tornado has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar and there is a serious threat to life and property. Take action and find safe shelter!
Watch this video to learn more about tornado watches and tornado warnings!
HAVE A PLAN
Where do I go? What do I do?
The time to answer these questions is NOT when the storm siren sounds. Have a plan in advance. While tornadoes can happen anytime, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, tornado season runs between May and June in the southern Plains, June and July in the central United States, and earlier in the spring on the Gulf Coast. Even with amazing advances in technology, there may only be minutes – or even seconds – to respond when a tornado begins to develop and warnings are launched.
Am I prepared?
Use this checklist BEFORE you, your staff or your family are in the path of a storm:
- Equip your business or home with a weather radio so you know when warnings are issued.
- Identify the safest place to go in your business or home. A professionally-designed and installed storm shelter or safe-room provides the very best protection. Otherwise, the lowest level of the home or business should be used for shelter. Below ground level is always safest during a tornado – go to the basement if you have one.
- A small room or hallway in the centermost part of the structure provides more walls and protection around you. In a business, this may be the restrooms or storerooms. At home, look to the bathroom; bathtubs are rather strong and provide a good source of shelter.
- Stay away from all windows if possible! Avoid rooms with windows. And do not open windows! The theory that this will help equalize pressure and reduce damage is a myth and can actually increase the danger.
- At home, have a “go bag” already prepared with things you might need for this or other emergency situations. A “go bag” can have flashlights, batteries, NOAA weather radio, water, snack bars, and medications – anything you feel you might need when regular life is disrupted and you may be displaced.
- When sheltering, consider using common items, such as bicycle or motorcycle helmets, ski goggles, heavy coats, blankets, and even bed mattresses to provide additional protection.
- Conduct tornado drills! Every business should identify where employees and customers will take shelter. Then, once a year employees should walk-through where to go (a drill!). Have an at-home tornado drill, too. Make sure loved ones know where to take shelter at home or on the road!
AFTER THE STORM
Is it safe? What do I do now?
Stay sheltered until you feel certain that the threat has ended. Many times tornadoes dissipate and then suddenly reform, or they may be followed by additional storm threats. Listen to the radio, police or fire officials, or other information sources to make sure it is safe.
- Check for injuries and apply first aid as needed.
- Watch out for dangerous debris or downed power lines.
- Evacuate if directed to do so.
- Let family, friends, and the authorities know you are safe. Consider using the American Red Cross “Safe and Well” website to help make communication easier.
- Take photos of damaged property.
- Consider using tarps to cover damaged areas to prevent further damage from additional rain or wind.
- Do not go into damaged structures as they may not be structurally safe.
Don’t become complacent!
Always pay attention to the weather forecasts and warning sirens. The media may play up severe weather to grab viewers and over time it may lead to desensitization – but we must pay attention to the dangers. Generally, no location is immune from the possibility of a tornado. Tornadoes can be destructive and deadly, but a little bit of preparedness and a proper response can help minimize your risk of injury.
For more information on tornadoes and severe storms check out the following websites:
For more information on identifying and evaluating dangers that could result in financial loss or injury at your business, visit societyinsurance.com.