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Tornado safety: 5 things to do ahead of severe weather


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Severe weather is back in the forecast for central Alabama. Strong tornadoes are possible on Thursday. Being informed and prepared before a tornado hits can make the difference between life and death.

Here are 5 things you need to know ahead of severe weather:

1.) Stay informed; understand the terminology: A tornado watch means that tornadoes are possible. Remain alert for approaching storms. Watch the sky and stay tuned into weather coverage. A tornado warning means that a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Take shelter immediately.

2.) Prepare your family well in advance of severe weather: Put together a disaster supplies kit made up of basic items that your household may need in the event of an emergency. You may need to survive on your own after a storm strikes. This means having your own water, food and other essentials in sufficient quantity to last for at least 72 hours. Local officials and relief workers will be on the scene after a disaster, but they cannot reach everyone immediately. You could get help in hours or it might take days. Basic services such as electricity, gas, water, sewage treatment and telephones may be cut off for days, a week, or even longer. Your supplies kit should contain items to help you manage during these outages.

3.) Have an emergency communication plan in place before the threat of severe weather: Have an emergency communication plan in place that all members of your family understand. Many families experience unneeded stress when tornadoes strike because they do not have a plan in place to be warned, stay safe and find one another after the storm has passed.

4.) Know about tornadoes, and know what to watch for: Some tornadoes are clearly visible, but rain or low-hanging clouds often hide others. Occasionally, tornadoes develop so rapidly that little if any advance warning is possible. Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become very still.

Look for the following danger signs:

  • Dark, often greenish sky
  • Large hail
  • A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if it appears to rotate)
  • A loud roar, similar to the sound of a freight train

A tornado 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, but tornadoes have been known to move in any direction. The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 mph, but may vary from stationary to 70 mph. Peak tornado season in the southern states is March through May. Tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., but can occur at any time.


5.) Know where to go to stay safest: If you are in a residence, small building, nursing home, hospital, factory, shopping center or high-rise building:

  • Go to a pre-designated area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar or the lowest building level. If there is no basement, go to the center of a small interior room on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck.
  • If you are in a pickup line at your child’s school, get inside the building as quickly as possible.
  • In a high-rise building, go to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible.
  • Make sure you are wearing sturdy shoes.
  • Do not open windows.

If you are in a mobile home, manufactured office building or camper:

  • Get out immediately and go to a pre-identified location such as the lowest floor of a sturdy nearby building or a storm shelter. Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes.

If you are not in a sturdy building, there is no single research-based recommendation for what last-resort action to take because many factors can affect your decision.

Possible actions (that do not guarantee safety) include:

  • Immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter. If your vehicle is hit by flying debris while you are driving, pull over and park.
  • Take cover in a stationary vehicle. Put the seat belt on and cover your head with your arms and a blanket, coat or cushion if possible.
  • Lie in an area noticeably lower than the level of the road and cover your head with your arms and a blanket, coat or cushion if possible.

In all situations:

  • Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location.
  • Never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a car or truck. Instead, leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter.
  • Watch out for flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.

This story via WVTM 13.

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