Tornado safety tips may help save lives

Tornado safety tips may help save lives The devastating Oklahoma City tornado earlier this month should serve as a reminder that no one is immune to the dangers associated with storms of such magnitude.

Clay County Emergency Management Director Ben Taylor urges the public to learn as much as possible about tornadoes in order to know what to do in case disaster strikes. The following information is from the National Weather Service.

What is a tornado?

A tornado is a violent rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground. The most violent tornadoes can produce massive destruction with wind speeds of 250 mph or more.�Damage paths can be more than one mile wide and 50 miles long.

The typical tornado moves from southwest to northeast, but they have been known to move in any direction. The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 mph but it may vary from stationary to 70 mph.

Although tornadoes occur in many parts of the world, they are found most frequently in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains during the spring and summer months. In an average year, 800 tornadoes are reported nationwide, resulting in 80 deaths and over 1,500 injuries.

How do tornadoes form?

Before thunderstorms develop, a change in wind direction along with an increase of wind speed with increasing height creates an invisible, horizontal spinning effect in the lower atmosphere. Rising air within the thunderstorm updraft tilts the rotating air from horizontal to vertical.

The area of rotation, two to six miles wide, now extends through much of the storm. This rotating column of air, known as a funnel, extends from the cloud and grows downward toward the ground. Once the funnel touches the ground it becomes a tornado.

Since the center of the funnel is a low pressure area, air rushes into the column and rises. The air is cooled as it rises and water vapor condenses to form the familiar funnel shaped cloud. As the rotating winds begin to pick up dirt and debris from the ground, the funnel will darken.

The strongest tornadoes occur in supercell thunderstorms which can also produce large hail and strong downbursts.

How do we classify


Tornadoes are classified by wind speed and damage according to the Fujita Scale:

* F0/F1 � Weak tornadoes. Usually last 1-10 minutes with wind speeds less than 113 mph.
* F2/F3 � Strong tornadoes. Might last 20 minutes or longer with wind speeds 113 mph to 206 mph.

* F4/F5 � Violent tornadoes. Might last an hour or more with wind speeds greater than 206 mph. Accounts for 1 percent of all tornadoes, but nearly 70 percent of tornado deaths.

Where and when do

tornadoes occur?

Tornadoes can occur anywhere at any time of the year. However, there are certain areas that favor tornado formation at different times of the year.

How can I tell if a

tornado is about to occur?

In addition to keeping abreast of the latest watches and warnings issued by the NWS, there are certain environmental clues that Mother Nature provides us with:

* Dark, often greenish sky

* Wall cloud

* Large hail

* Loud roar, similar to a freight train

How does the National

Weather Service warn

the public of tornadoes?

When conditions are favorable for severe weather to develop, a severe thunderstorm or tornado WATCH is issued by the National Weather Service.

Weather Service personnel use information from weather radar, spotters, and other sources to issue severe thunderstorm and tornado WARNINGS for areas where severe weather is imminent. The warnings are passed on to local radio and television stations and are broadcast over local NOAA Weather Radio stations serving the warned areas. These warnings are also relayed to local emergency management and public safety officials who can activate local warning systems to alert communities.

Tornado watch

A watch is given when weather conditions are favorable to the formation of tornadoes, for example during severe thunderstorms. During a tornado watch, keep an eye on the weather and be prepared to take shelter immediately if conditions worsen.

Tornado warning

A warning is given when a tornado funnel is sighted or indicated by radar. You should take shelter immediately. Because tornadoes can form and move quickly, there may not be time for a warning. That's why it's important to stay alert during storms.

Suggested safety tips that can be used to increase your chances for survival include:

At home

Get to shelter immediately. Avoid windows. Flying glass can injure or kill. Don't open windows. Houses don't explode and allowing strong winds in can do damage or cause injury.

The safest place in the house is the interior part of the basement, preferably under something sturdy like a table. Stay out from under heavy objects like pianos or refrigerators on the floor above.

If you have no basement and cannot reach a public shelter, go to an inside room on the lowest floor, like a closet, hallway, or bathroom with no windows.

For added protection, get under something strong, like a workbench or heavy table. If possible, cover your body with a blanket or sleeping bag and protect your head with anything available, even your hands.

Mobile homes

Do not stay in a mobile home during a tornado. Even homes with a secure tie-down system cannot withstand the force of tornado winds. Plan ahead. Know where public shelter is available or make arrangements to stay with friends or neighbors who have basements. Go there if a tornado watch is issued.

If a tornado warning is given, leave your mobile home and seek shelter nearby. Lie flat in a ditch or ravine and put your arms over your head. Don't take shelter under your home.

On the road

The least desirable place to be during a tornado is in a motor vehicle. Cars, buses, and trucks are tossed easily by tornado winds. Do not try to outrun a tornado in your car. If you see a tornado, stop your vehicle and get out. Seek shelter away from the car in a nearby ditch or ravine; do not get under your vehicle. Lie flat and put your arms over your head.

Schools, hospitals, nursing

homes and office buildings

Extra precautions are needed in these structures. Not only is there a large concentration of people in a small area, but these buildings usually have large amounts of glass on the outside walls. Get into the innermost portions on the lowest floor possible. Avoid windows, glass doorways and auditoriums and cafeterias not protected by overhead floors and rooms.

Do not use elevators; the power may go off and you could become trapped. Protect your head and make yourself a small a target as possible by crouching down.

In the open

If you are caught outside during a tornado and there is no underground shelter immediately available, lie in a gully, ditch, or low spot in the ground. Protect your body and head with anything available. Do not go into a grove of trees or under a vehicle.

After the storm

Emergency services personnel are usually on the scene quickly after a tornado. Keep your family together and wait for help to arrive. Listen to the radio for information about disaster relief and assistance available from local authorities and volunteer agencies.

If you are outside, don't go into damaged buildings; they may collapse completely. Wait for help to search for others. If your home appears undamaged, check carefully for gas or other utility line breaks. If the lights are out, use a flashlight only; do not use a match, lighter or any open flame.

More information

The Tornado Project has a web site,, for more information about tornado history, myths, safety and more.

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