Tornadoes are one of the most dangerous forms of natural disaster that can strike a community. And unlike what you may have heard, tornadoes can cross rivers, climb mountains, strike with little warning and hit major cities. In fact, Birmingham Alabama, Miami Florida and Brooklyn New York have all been hit by tornadoes in the last three years. The last year has seen a rise in the number and intensity of tornado outbreaks in this country; particularly in the South and Midwest. With that fact in mind, this seemed like a good time to talk about how to survive one of the deadliest events nature can throw at you.
- Preparation: If you have not already done so, prepare a family emergency plan in order to provide for communication, safe destinations and supplies. Designate the most structurally sound area of your home as your storm shelter. This should be an interior room, a basement or storm cellar. Make sure your emergency supplies are stored in this area.
- What to look for: Monitor your radio and/or television for severe weather warnings. A tornado watch means conditions are ripe for tornadoes while a warning means a tornado has been spotted on the ground. The types of storms that spawn tornadoes typically involve dark (sometimes green) skies, high winds, occasionally hail and the presence of a wall cloud. A tornado makes a very distinct noise that closely resembles the sound of a freight train and the presence of this sound means the twister is right on top of you. Go to your shelter as soon as you hear warning sirens, severe weather alerts from the television/radio or if you see any of the above signs.
- Survival Position: Whether sheltering in a building or a ditch, lay facedown and use your arms to cover the back of your head. If possible, cover yourself with mattresses, blankets or whatever is available. The idea here is to get as low as possible to avoid flying debris while protecting your head from falling or flying objects.
- In your car: If you are in your vehicle and a tornado is imminent do not try to outrun the storm! A vehicle is not a safe place to shelter in a tornado. If the tornado is in your immediate area, park your vehicle as far onto the shoulder as you can, seek shelter or get into a ditch and assume the survival position. Do not take shelter under an overpass! The architecture of an overpass can act as a funnel that actually accelerates the winds of a tornado.
- In your home: Do not take the time to open all the windows in your home if a tornado is bearing down on you! This does not help and can actually make the situation more dangerous. Besides, if a tornado is in your area, you need to be moving your family towards your safe room or storm shelter; not running all through the house. A quick and dirty form of safe room involves moving to an interior restroom and sitting out the storm in a sleeping bag or quilt placed in the bathtub. If you do not have a shelter, get under the heaviest piece of furniture you can find and assume the survival position. Treat a mobile home exactly as you would a vehicle. Even a mobile home attached to a foundation is not safe in a tornado and should be abandoned for a safer area.
- Aftermath: Once the storm has passed, move with extreme caution. If your home is damaged, it may no longer be structurally sound. If the tornado has hit your neighborhood directly, there will be fallen trees, broken glass, rusty nails and other dangerous types of debris laying around as well as the possibility of downed power lines. Do not approach a downed power line or attempt to move it under any circumstances! If you have a first aid kit, take it with you and provide aid wherever you can. Do not attempt to move an injured person unless they are in immediate danger! Keep in mind that exposure to the elements, dehydration and disease are the biggest killers following a disaster. As soon as possible, seek shelter, find a source of clean water and do your best to maintain sanitary conditions.
Tornadoes are extremely violent forces of nature that should never be underestimated. Develop a plan for dealing with severe weather before the clouds darken.