Tornado Prepardness

May 21, 2013 -- 7:31am

The term "tornado preparedness" refers to safety precautions made before the arrival of a tornado. It involves long-term plans as well as steps taken minutes beforehand.

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Preparedness involves knowing the major dangers to avoid. Some tornadoes are the most violent storms in nature. Tornadoes have varied in strength, and some tornadoes have been mostly invisible due to a lack of loose dirt or debris in the funnel cloud. Spawned from strong thunderstorms, tornadoes have caused fatalities and devastated neighborhoods within seconds of arrival.


A tornado operates as a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud that extends downward from a thunderstorm, to the ground, with swirling winds which have reached 300 miles per hour.  The wind speed might be difficult to imagine: traveling the length of a field within 1 second[3] (over 130 meters or 430 feet per second). Damage paths have been in excess of one-mile wide and 50 miles long


The following is a summary of typical tornadoes: [2]

They may strike quickly, with little or no warning.

They may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms in the funnel.

The average tornado moves Southwest to Northeast in the U.S., but tornadoes have been known to move in any direction.

The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 miles per hour (48 km/h), but has varied from stationary to 70 mph (110 km/h).

Tornadoes can also accompany tropical storms and hurricanes as they move onto land.

Waterspouts are tornadoes that form over water.

Tornadoes are most frequently reported east of the Rocky Mountainsduring spring and summer months.

Peak tornado season in the southern U.S. states is March through May; in the northern states, it is late spring through early summer.

The U.S.Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has advised the following precautions before a storm reaches an area: [4]

People were to be alert to the changing weather conditions.

They were to listen to NOAA Weather Radio or to local commercial radio or television newscasts for the latest information.

They were advised to watch various common danger signs, including:

dark, often greenish-colored sky;[4]

large hail stones;

a large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating);

loud roar of wind, sounding similar to a freight train.

Upon seeing an approaching storm or noticing any of the danger signs, they were advised to prepare to take shelter immediately, such as moving to a safe room, internal stairway, or other safe-haven area.

During August 2010, FEMA advised people to perform the following actions when a tornado struck.


Action taken

In a structure (e.g. residence, small building, school, nursing home, hospital, factory, shopping center, high-rise building)

They were to enter a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level.[5] If there was no basement, then to the center of an interior room on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls. The goal has been to put as many walls as possible between there and the outside. They were advised to get under a sturdy table and use arms to protect head and neck, and not open windows.[5]

In a vehicle, trailer, or mobile home

They were advised to leave immediately and enter the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building or a storm shelter.[5] Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes.[5] If a car is flipped by high winds, there is also the danger of broken glass.

On the outside with no shelter

They were advised to lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover head with their hands.[5] Also, to beware of the potential for flooding there.

They were advised to not stay under an overpass or bridge (where winds or debris might be funneled). It was safer to be in a low, flat location.[5]

The advice was to never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a car or truck, but instead, to leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter.

Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.[5]

Because some preparations vary, depending on location, people have been advised to consult their local area preparedness plans, rather than assume the plans are similar for all areas, such as which local buildings have been designated as storm shelters.

Having a first aid kit in the safe haven is advised to help victims recover from minor injuries. People needing prescription medications could have a medicine bag ready to take to shelter. Some people have reported their "ears popping" due to the change in air pressure, but those effects seem to be temporary. Covering people with mattresses or cushions has helped avoid injury from flying debris,[5] as walls collapsed nearby.

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