Anyone who has resided in “Tornado Alley”, the strip of land extending from North Texas up to South Dakota where tornadoes are most likely to occur, can probably tell you about spring and summer afternoons spent watching the weather report on their local TV channel during a particularly violent storm. They can also tell you about how their favorite bow-tied weatherman announced that their county was under a tornado warning and the rush to the safest spot that they could get to. They may continue their story with a tale of a neighbor’s home that was flattened by a massive twister.
Tornadoes can be particularly frightening. They can form in very little time under the right conditions, destroy almost everything in their path, and are virtually impossible to predict with absolute certainty. This of course does not mean you should panic if the National Weather Service announces that a tornado has formed. It simply means that you should keep your wits about you and follow a few basic safety procedures.
First, we must look at when tornadoes are likely to form and what the weather warnings mean. Tornadoes are most likely to form during the spring when cold air from Canada meets warmer air from Mexico in converging fronts. This can cause rotation to form, which leads to a tornado. When you see a tornado watch then this means that weather conditions are favorable for tornado formation. This is usually coupled with a severe thunderstorm watch or warning, but not always. It is a general sign that you should probably get into a safe location, if you have not already figured that out by the dark skies.
If a tornado warning is announced then that means that a tornado has been sighted. This means that you should take shelter immediately. A warning will be announced not only on the radio and television like a tornado watch but also with the unmistakable sound of your local civil defense sirens. These sirens were originally designed to warn of inbound nuclear missiles from the Soviet Union, but Ivan’s nuclear arsenal should be the last thing on your mind when you hear these when the sky is dark and the winds are picking up.
Attempt to take shelter in a building with inner walls. If you are in your home or an office then this will be perfect. The idea here is to provide as many barriers as possible between you and the debris and destructive wind. Glass is obviously something that you will want to avoid. It will provide very little (if any) protection from things like flying tree limbs. Get into a closet or your bath tub. Cover yourself and your family members with a mattress if possible. This will protect against smaller debris. Put your head down and cover it with your arms.
If you happen to have a storm shelter that is detached from your home then you should probably move into it at the first sign that a tornado may occur. It would be rather foolish to leave what safety you do have in your home to get to a safer position if you have to move through dangerous conditions. If a tornado watch is present then you should move into the shelter and monitor the weather via radio, be it FM, AM, or specially designed weather radios.
If you are on the road then attempt to take shelter under a bridge. Duck and cover in a corner of the bridge much like you would if you were in your closet at home. If a bridge is not present then you should find a ditch to take cover in. Yes, you could theoretically go airborne if a tornado passes directly over you, but you will be much less likely to be hit with debris if you are in a low position.
Where ever you may be, make sure that you are wearing sturdy shoes or boots if at all possible. In the event that you come into the storm’s path then you may end up having to escape a devastated building after the storm passes. This will of course mean stepping over broken glass and other things that could damage your feet. Take a flashlight and a first aid kit with you as well. Make sure you have fresh batteries and your kit is well stocked (gauze, medical tape, disinfectant, tweezers, etc.).
This is essentially everything that you need to know to keep yourself as safe as possible in the event of a tornado. Keeping yourself prepared could mean saving your life as well as those of your family.