How to survive a tornado
Tornadoes are one of nature’s most dangerous natural disasters – they’re unpredictable, deadly and destructive, and every year people die because they don’t know how to survive the storms or their aftermath. While there are no guarantees, there are several common-sense recommendations that may help you to survive a tornado.
1) Be alert
It’s impossible to predict exactly where and when a tornado will strike – it is possible to determine when the conditions are right for a a tornado. Watching The Weather Channel, a local television station or listening to a local radio station is a must when potentially dangerous storms are predicted. Weather Underground is a great online resource, and if you have a smart phone or IPad with Internet access there are weather-alert apps to keep you posted even if you lose power.
Two terms you need to know are “watch” and “warning”:
– “Watch” indicates conditions are right for a tornado and you need to be prepared, including paying more attention to local weather reports
– “Warning” means a tornado has been seen by a tornado spotter, or radar indicates a weather pattern which could spawn a tornado. When a “warning” is issued, it’s time to move to safety.
It’s important to recognize weather associated with tornadoes, especially if you are outside, without access to a TV, radio or cell signal. According to the Storm Prediction Center, if you see any of the following, it’s time to head to shelter:
– Strong cloud rotation.
– Swirling dust, water or debris.
– Hail and/or heavy rain followed by a dead calm or fast wind.
– Continuous roar/rumble – the classic “freight train” sound associated with tornadoes.
– Especially noticeable at night are bright green flashes low in the sky when power lines are snapped by dangerously high winds or possible tornado.
According to Scientific American, it’s a myth that a green sky predicts a tornado, however, a green sky may be indicative of a storm severe enough to warrant caution.
2) Move to safety
The best way to survive a tornado is to move to safety as soon as possible after a tornado warning is issued for your area or when your hear tornado sirens. If you see a funnel cloud, don’t run for the camera – run for shelter.
Especially if you live in tornado alley, you should have a purpose-built tornado shelter or safe room – a structure made from reinforced concrete and/or steel designed to withstand high-winds, flying debris and heavy falling objects. A safe room can be built in a basement, or an interior room can be converted to a tornado-safe room.
While a storm shelter separate from a home or office can be safe and practical, an article on storm shelters by Texas Tech University suggests that people are unwilling to move to such a shelter soon enough, and risk injury trying to reach safety.
If you don’t have a tornado shelter or safe room, the basement is generally the safest place, followed by an interior ground-floor closet or bathroom. Use pillows, blankets, sleeping bags or even a mattress to provide extra protection from falling debris.
If a small reinforced room is not available, take shelter under a sturdy piece of furniture – a pew in church, or under a desk in an office.
If you are outside and cannot get to a structure, find a ditch or hollow as far from trees as possible, lay flat and cover your head.
3) Have a survival kit
Tornadoes last for moments, but their effects last for hours, days or even months. It’s essential to have some basic items readily available (in your safe room) including:
– Cellphone and charger
– First aid kit
– Prescription medications
– Wallet with drivers license/picture ID
– Food, especially for infants, for anyone on a special diet and for pets
– Towels and blankets
– Baby/hand wipes
– Work clothes/shoes and heavy gloves (for walking through and clearing debris)
– Air Horn (use to signal for help if trapped in in your safe room, shelter or under rubble)
– Crates and/or leashes for pets
– Important phone numbers – emergency services, insurance company, bank, doctor, veterinarian, utilities, landlord
– Medical records
– Vehicle details
– Pictures of family members and pets (for identification in case you become separated)
– Important papers – birth certificates, will, titles, social security cards, passports
4) Avoid danger spots
There are certain places that should be avoided in the event of a tornado, including mobile homes, motor vehicles, upper story rooms or rooms with windows. Harvard University recommends avoiding “long-span” buildings like malls, theaters, churches or gymnasiums.
While you might want to have your video of the tornado on television or YouTube, the out-of-doors is the most dangerous places to be in a tornado. If you’re caught outside in a tornado, avoid trees and do NOT seek shelter under a bridge. Again, find a ditch, lay flat and cover your head.
5) Surviving the aftermath
Once the storm is passed, even if your home or shelter was spared, there are still potential tornado-related dangers to be avoided. Downed power-lines and broken gas lines are major risks. Walking through debris with broken glass, splintered wood and nails can cause additional injuries, especially if you rushed to shelter in slippers or bare feet.
Tornadoes may be unpredictable, but it is possible to improve your chances of surviving by following a few common sense recommendations. By being alert, being prepared, and seeking shelter before the storm hits, you and your family can survive a tornado.