Tornado’s occur more in the United States than any other country…lucky us! An average of 1200 tornado’s hit the United States annually, and are more likely in some areas such as the Midwest (Tornado Ally) and areas where the geography allows thunderstorms to build up, usually flat lands, but not always.
To get a better understanding of tornado’s it helps to understand what causes them, so in this article I have some tornado facts and myths and how to prepare for them.
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Although a tornado is more likely to occur during spring and summer, and some areas are more likely to be affected by tornado’s than others, no one person, and no one place is completely exempt from the possibility of a tornado. With the right weather a tornado can happen anywhere on the planet, at any time of year.
That being said, I would have concerns other than a very unlikely tornado if I lived high up in the mountains and it was the middle of winter. But there are some places that tornado’s are a major concern in the spring and summer.
Preparing for a tornado and other natural disaster is important because the odds of a natural disaster affecting you are far greater than one of these SHTF scenarios we read about all the time. Also, by preparing for a tornado or other natural disasters you will find that you are becoming more prepared for the larger disaster scenarios. This is because the basic supplies are for the most part the same.
Before we get into what supplies we need, let’s talk about what we should look for and how we can prepare ourselves before a tornado strikes our home or surrounding area, and what damage a tornado can cause.
Look to the Sky
Sometimes we can look up and see a thunderstorm and clouds that look downright mean, but this doesn’t mean that there are the right conditions present to produce a tornado. We might even see clouds that are dipping down from the cloud cover that looks like the beginnings of a tornado because of their cone shape.
These Clouds are Called SCUD Clouds (Scattered Cumulus Under Deck): SCUD clouds are fragments of clouds that are unattached to and below a layer of higher clouds. These tornado look alikes can be intimidating at first glance, but the key is to look for rotation, if there is none, it’s just a harmless SCUD cloud.
Inflow bands: Inflow bands are a little hard to explain but as you can see in the picture they are bands of low hanging cumulus clouds (in the wall cloud) that are moving into or toward a thunderstorm. These inflow bands indicate the inflow of moist air into the storm, and therefor it has potential create a tornado.
Beavers Tail Clouds: These are another type of inflow band and they have a broad flat appearance, hence the term beaver tail. These normally attaches to the storm’s main updraft (not to the wall cloud) and has a base at about the same level as the updraft base, not the wall cloud.
Wall Clouds: Wall clouds can range from a fraction of a mile up to nearly five miles in diameter. When seen from within several miles, many wall clouds exhibit rapid upward motion and cyclonic rotation. However, not all wall clouds rotate.
Rotating wall clouds usually develop before strong or violent tornadoes, by anywhere from a few minutes up to nearly an hour. Wall clouds should be monitored visually for signs of persistent, sustained rotation and/or rapid vertical motion.
As you can see from the image below a wall cloud is a very small portion of the actual thunderstorm. For more information about clouds and thunderstorms click here to visit the National Server Storms Laboratory website.
Emergency Alerts & Tornado Procedures
Tornado’s can be Invisible: Tornadoes may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up, and often occur when it is not raining. A tornado can also be hidden by heavy rain and hail if it occurs in the precipitation zone.
Tornado Watch VS Warning: The way I used to think about this was a “watch” implied there was a tornado, and a “warning” was just that, a warning that conditions were right for a tornado. In reality it’s the exact opposite. In hind sight this makes complete sense, because if there is a tornado the last thing you want to do is watch… Or should I say the last thing you should do is watch.
Family Communications: Our first priority will be making sure family and friends are safe, and because most tornado’s happen in the evening it’s possible that help will not arrive for several hours or until the next day. In this situation we become the first line of defense and will not have time to assess the damage until we make sure everyone is safe.
Practice and Discuss Procedures: Make sure your family know what to do before, during and after a tornado. This doesn’t just include around the house, this includes what to do if the family is separated also. Typically tornado’s happen in the afternoon and evening and this is usually the one time of day the family is home together, but that will not always be the case.
During a tornado warning you want to make sure everyone knows the difference between a watch and a warning. This all might seem repetitive at times, but when the threat of a tornado becomes real there will not be much time to think. Also make sure everyone knows exactly where to go and what to do when they get there.
First Aid: Make sure everyone knows where the first aid kits are, (and the basics of first aid) and make sure they know where the fire extinguishers are. These things tend to get taken for granted and forgotten about over time, but in a situation where seconds will matter you are not going to want to waste time giving directions.
Safe Rooms: Discuss which rooms in the home have better tornado protection and why. Also make sure everyone knows where the safest place to go is, this means at work, at school and at home. I talk about this more in-depth a little later, but make sure everyone knows how to keep themselves safe and alive.
Important Papers: Have emergency numbers and documents stored in a tornado safe place, or at least the safest place possible. Copies of important documents and pre storm pictures of your belongings (insurance reasons) can be kept on a flash drive.
Weather Alerts and Warnings: In the afternoons we can usually see what is coming our way, we have no idea if that storm holds the potential for a tornado, but we will be able to tell whether or not we are going to have an active afternoon or not.
Local Television: If you know you about to have one of those active weather afternoons make sure you are watching the news and not cable television. Even if this means you have to watch Judge Judy or General Hospital you are going to want to. If there is something important going on in your state they will break to the news and you will get important information that you will not get from cable channels.
County Alerts: Just about every county has the ability to send emergency alerts and tornado warnings to you phone. Just Google [my county] emergency alerts and you will be able to sign up to get text message as well as voice message details about the storm warnings and watches in your county.
Actions to Take During a Tornado
Now that we have done everything we can to prepare for the unfortunate event of a tornado hitting our home, it doesn’t mean we are out of the woods. Just like earthquakes, volcano’s and hurricanes there is no way to fight Mother Nature, we just need to do our best to stay out of her way.
First let’s start with a couple of myths you might have heard and a couple of things you might think are the right thing to do during a tornado but taking different actions might increase your odds of surviving a tornado.
I will quote a couple of these myths taken from the Weather Underground website, but to read the full list click here.
Flying Debris: We already know that a tornado can be invisible until it starts picking up debris, the amount of debris depends on the EF scale as shown in the image below. Most of the damage caused by a tornado is not going to be from the funnel itself, but from the wind and debris it is throwing around.
In a home or building debris tends to collect in corners. It seems a little counter intuitive to take cover in the corner, but this is the safest place to be because the winds will be at their lowest. Just make sure to cover your head and other vital organs.
Lay Low: Damage inside the home happens when wind somehow gets inside. This can be from weak garage doors coming off, windows being broken and even roofs getting lifted off the home itself.
Taking cover: Protecting ourselves means protecting our vital organs. This is the most important thing we can do in a situation like this. There is not much we have control over during a tornado, but we do have control over what we do to survive a tornado.
Take cover in the basement or lowest level you can get to, and make sure it is away from windows and in a structurally sound place in the house or building. If possible, cover yourself with blankets, a mattress or even books over your vital organs to put a barrier between you and the debris.
The Calm After the Storm
Our first priority in any disaster scenario is ourselves… then our family. If we can’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of anyone else. Putting ourselves in danger to help someone else might not work out like we planned, making a bad situation even worse.
IMPORTANT: If medical professionals are available let them do their job, don’t make the problem worse. These people are trained to respond to situations like this and they will most likely be able to respond to a tornado occurrence.
Emergency Help: That being said, there might be situations that require immediate attention. This could be your immediate family, or it could mean your neighbors. This could be something as simple as making sure everyone is OK, to helping people that are possibly trapped in the wreckage cause by the tornado.
Utility Lines: Along the lines of keeping yourself safe is checking the gas lines, power lines and electrical lines for breaks. Make sure you know where and how to shut these off before hand to insure you can do this safely when the situation is less than ideal.
Again, if emergency personnel are available let them do their job, you might be able to help, but let the professionals do their job if at all possible.
Tornado Survival Supplies
Most survival kits will have the same basic essentials, Food, Water, First aid and Shelter etc… After you have the basics down it’s important to tailor your kit (or make another one) to fit your needs for the natural disasters that are more likely in your area.
The tools and supplies you might need in an area prone to earthquakes will be different than a survival kit you make if you are more prone to floods or tornado’s. In order to put this kit together you need to put yourself in that post disaster scenario and ask yourself what you will need.
Put yourself in the post tornado situation, what will it look like?
Depending on where you live it could be just your home, or it could be the entire neighborhood. There is not much you can do if a tornado strikes other than take cover and try to survive, the real challenges come afterwards.
Tornado’s will level everything in their path and can lead to people being trapped in automobiles, trapped in debris and cause minor to severe injuries. Making sure everyone is safe doesn’t just mean your immediate family, it means the whole neighborhood or affected area. Because of all this there are some tools and supplies that will make this job a little easier and safer.
- Wood handle shovels. (Wood for electrical safety)
- Crow bars & pry bars.
- Chainsaw and fuel.
- Axes & hatchets.
- Ropes and chains.
- Cell phone/satellite phone.
- First aid kit that includes splints and bandages and first aid manual, Medicine (prescription medications, and over-the-counter pain killers, etc.)
- NOAA Radio. (Solar or crank)
- Solar battery charger.
- Generator or solar battery bank.
- Flashlights & light sticks (Don’t forget batteries)
- Non-perishable food and/or long tern food. (Don’t forget the can opener)
- Water (think about the neighbors also)
- Extra blankets or sleeping bags
- Extra cloths including shoes and socks.
- Emergency shelter such as tents or tarps
- Emergency signaling such as flares, Air horn or whistles.
- Cash and credit cards – important papers – emergency phone numbers
Now this is a lot of stuff and in the event of a tornado who knows where this stuff will end up right? Well just make sure you keep these supplies in the safest place possible and hopefully when the time comes they will be there.
Quite a bit of these tools and supplies might already be in our garage or tool shed, we just need to organize and make sure they will be handy in the event of a tornado. Some of the other supplies will also be useful in other disaster scenarios making them useful even if a tornado never gets close to your home.
Do you have any tornado preparedness tips? Let us know in the comments below.