April is Tornado Awareness Month – Don’t get swept away to Oz

tornado safetyHooray, it’s spring! Bulbs are sprouting, snow is melting, and … what’s that, Toto? You see low black clouds swirling overhead? It's not a flock of flying monkeys. It's a tornado. Tornados can occur anywhere, anytime; but if you’ve lived in tornado country for long, you know the risks that come with the spring and summer months. And since April is Tornado Awareness Month, here are some tips for preparing for the worst that nature can dish out:

Tornado Facts & Myths

  • Know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. A watch just means that conditions are favorable for a tornado. A warning is more serious – it means that a real tornado has been spotted nearby on the ground or on local weather radar.
  • Rotating winds in a tornado can reach 250 mph. Forward progress of funnel clouds can reach 70 mph.
  • The sounds of a tornado can vary from a dull roar to the sound of a waterfall to the stereotypical train-like blast.
  • Tornados can be virtually transparent until they start carrying dust and debris.
  • Most tornados move southwest-to-northeast, but they can move in any direction.
  • No area, despite it history, is “tornado-proof.” Tornados can jump rivers, cut through major cities, and even hit the exact same neighborhood more than once in a few years’ time.
  • Highway underpasses do not make safe shelters in a tornado. Watch this clever safe-shelter video from the Weather Channel to learn the truth.

Watch the Skies

If it is tornado season and the skies darken, keep an eye out for these common warning signs:
  • Storm clouds that are green or greenish-black
  • A wall cloud – basically an isolated portion of a thunderstorm that drops below the rest of the cloud base
  • Clouds of debris
  • Hail
  • Funnel cloud – a portion of a storm base that visibly rotates, either above or on the ground
Also, know your community’s early warning system (a siren, for example). As an added measure, you can follow up-to-the-minute storm activity anywhere in the country at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center.

Gather supplies

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that you keep the following on hand in a disaster supply kit:
  • First aid kit, including prescription drugs
  • Three-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day) and non-perishable food
  • One blanket or sleeping bag per person
  • Emergency-tools, including a flashlight, battery-powered radio, and extra batteries
  • Extra keys, cash, credit cards, ID cards and driver’s licenses
  • Special items for babies or elderly family members
Also, check out the Red Cross Tornado Information Page.

Find a Safe Place to Shelter

Find a safe room in your home where everyone, including pets, can gather.  The best place is a storm cellar or basement room situated to the north and east. If no cellar or basement is available, find an interior room on the lowest floor with no windows. No trailer home is safe in a tornado. In addition, the Red Cross, FEMA and other organizations recommend that families practice tornado drills so that everyone in the house knows what to do if a tornado hits. They also recommend preparing for high winds by removing loose, diseased or damaged limbs from nearby trees, and moving trash cans, furniture or any other household items that a tornado can pick up and rocket into your house. For more information, see this tornado safety checklist. Remember – tornados can hit anywhere, anytime. The key to surviving one is knowing what to look for, what to have on hand, and where to seek shelter when storms get nasty. download the free Emergency Response Plan guide.  


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