Vigilance needed to weather tornado season
Recent history reveals no shortage of tornadic systems that inflicted widespread damage, injuries, and death throughout the Southeast.
Northeast Alabama is no exception, as many tornados come through the area each year. The spring months are no longer the only time tornados hit, as many now come in the fall and some even during the unseasonably warm winter days.
On March 3, 2019, a tornado struck near Beauregard, Alabama, killing 23 people. A major tornado outbreak that ranged from Arkansas to Virginia in late April 2011 killed 324 across six states, including 317 on April 27 alone.
While tornados provide an inherent danger — sometimes with little warning — cooperative members can take some preventive steps that can save lives and reduce injuries.
Before the Storm
Pay attention to weather reports through the media. Forecasting of conditions that could lead to tornadic weather has improved throughout the years.
- If conditions appear to be right for tornadoes, identify your home’s safe places and discuss them with family members. Basements, storm shelters or windowless interior rooms on the lowest floor offer the best protection during a tornado.
- If occupying a mobile home, create evacuation plans to a sturdier shelter.
- Sign up for emergency weather alerts or purchase and program a weather radio to keep informed of any watches and warnings.
- Create an emergency preparedness kit in case debris clogs area roadways and/or causes damage to the power grid. Kits should include an adequate supply of water, nonperishable food items, flashlights, batteries, and any necessary medications. For more details on creating an emergency preparedness kit, visit the Department of Homeland Security website, or the American Red Cross website.
- The American Red Cross recommends trimming dead or diseased tree limbs near homes to reduce the amount of potential debris. Red Cross officials also suggest securing any loose items that may be outside, like patio furniture or grills.
- Install permanent shutters that can cover windows quickly before a storm hits.
During the Storm
- When a tornado warning has been issued, execute the evacuation or safety plans you have created. For further protection, use your arms to shield your head and neck and use furniture or blankets to provide additional cover, DHS officials recommend.
- Stay away from windows or doors.
- If outside or in a vehicle, seek sturdy shelter immediately. If none is available, lie flat in a ditch or depression and use your arms to cover your head, the Electrical Safety Foundation International recommends. Be mindful of potential flooding in those locations.
After the Storm
- Continue to monitor weather reports to ensure the danger has passed. Return home from an evacuation only when authorities have deemed it safe.
- If trapped inside a structure a tornado impacted, cover your mouth with a cloth or mask to avoid breathing in dust, DHS officials recommend. Attempt to notify authorities by tapping on pipes, sending texts, or using a whistle.
- Exercise caution when entering damaged structures and stay away from buildings where the smell of gas lingers, ESFI officials urge. Watch out for broken gas lines and fallen power lines and report them to authorities.
- Wear protective gear like gloves and boots when walking near or handling debris.
- Unless it is an emergency, use text messages or social media to communicate with loved ones. Phone systems are extremely busy and can be damaged in a tornado.
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Watch Versus Warning
Tornado Watch: A tornado watch means conditions may be right for tornadoes to spawn in the next few hours. Watches usually cover large areas, including portions of several states.
Tornado Warning: A warning means a tornado has been spotted or indicated on radar and is an imminent threat to the area in the warning. Warnings cover smaller areas, sometimes just a portion of a county.
All tornadoes are classified on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale, which measures wind strength of a three-second gust during the storm.
- EF0: 65-85 mph
- EF1: 86-110 mph
- EF2: 111-135 mph
- EF3: 136-165 mph
- EF4: 166-200 mph
- EF5: above 200 mph