Tornadoes happen quickly and there’s little time to prepare, but there are steps people can take to be safer before, during and after one hits, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialist.
“More than 1,000 tornadoes strike the U.S. annually and no state is immune,” said Joyce Cavanagh, AgriLife Extension family and community health specialist, College Station. “They can hit almost any time of the year, but are more prevalent during spring and summer months and usually occur between 3p.m. and 9p.m.”
Winds from tornadoes can reach more than 300 miles per hour and can wreak havoc on swaths of land more than a mile wide and over 50 miles long, she said.
“Tornadic winds can destroy houses and buildings, uproot trees, turn everyday outdoor items into deadly projectiles and cause vehicles to roll over,” Cavanagh said. “Learn how your community warns residents about tornadoes so you can take action if you hear a warning siren or receive a warning on the radio or TV.”
Cavanagh said be alert to notifications of a tornado watch, which means a tornado is possible, and a tornado warning, which means a tornado has been sighted or is indicated by weather radar.
“Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio or commercial radio or television for information,” she said. “If for some reason you have turned off the alert function on your smartphone, this would be a good time to turn it back on.”
Cavanagh said if there’s a tornado watch, move closer to a shelter or sturdy building.
“If there’s a tornado warning, take shelter immediately,” she said. “If possible, go to a pre-designated shelter that meets Federal Emergency Management Agency safety criteria.”
Cavanagh suggested identifying an interior room, preferably without windows on the lowest level of the home, where the family can gather if there’s a tornado warning.
She said other preparations around the home in the event of a tornado include making sure damaged or dead limbs are removed from trees and securing trash cans, lawn furniture, plant containers, toys and other items in the yard that could become projectiles.
“Preparations should also include putting together an emergency kit and having a family emergency plan that can be practiced by all members of the family in advance of a disaster,” she said. “Learn where there are storm shelters or other safe locations in sturdy buildings near your home or work, as well as near other locations you frequent so you can go there quickly if there’s a tornado warning.
Cavanagh said the warning signs of potential tornadic storm activity include the appearance of a dark, sometimes greenish, sky with dark, low-lying clouds in addition to large hail stones.
“You may also see funnel clouds and hear a loud roar that’s often compared to the sound of an approaching freight train,” she said.
“If you are in your home when the tornado hits, get under a sturdy table and cover your head and neck with your arms,” she advised. “Cover your body as best you can with a blanket, bedspread, heavy coat or pillows.
“If in a high-rise building, go to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor and leave . the windows closed. If possible, go to pre-designated shelter, but if not, find a sturdy structure such as a small building, school, church, nursing home, hospital or shopping center.”
She said mobile homes, even those tied down, are not safe during these storms.
“If there is a more substantial location nearby where you can safely find shelter, it’s best to go there,” she said. “But if a tornado warning occurs when away from the home, get into a vehicle, buckle the seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter. “If that’s not possible or your vehicle is hit by flying debris while driving, pull over and park. Keep the seat belt on and cover your head with your arms or a blanket, sweater, coat or cushion and keep your head below the window and windshield glass.
She also advised not to park under an overpass or bridge, even though it may look safe.
“You’re actually safer on low, flat ground,” she said. “Never to try and outrun a tornado, especially if you’re in an urban or congested area. In such an instance, leave the vehicle and find shelter.”
Cavanagh said if away from home when a tornado hits, don’t return until safety officials say it is safe to do so.
“Beware of damaged buildings and downed power lines,” she said. “If after dark, use flashlights instead of candles, Candles can be a potential fire hazard, including potentially igniting gas from gas lines broken by tornado activity.
“Be very cautious during cleanup and around debris. Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and thick-soled shoes. And put on work gloves if you’re removing debris.”
Cavanagh also suggested taking photographs of property damage for insurance purposes.
“This can be very useful when filing an insurance claim,” she said. “And do what you can to prevent further damage as insurance typically does not cover any further damage that occurs after the storm.”
By Paul Schattenberg with AgriLife Today