No we’re not talking about the board game here. Nor the 1996 movie starring Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt and an airborne cow. We’re talking twisters (note the lowercase), those dangerous rotating columns capable of packing wind speeds over 200 mph and dubbed nature’s most violent storms.
If you’ve seen the news, you’re well aware the U.S. has experienced record tornado activity in April. This feature by the New York Times showcases one “family” of deadly storms that swept across the south from April 14-April 16. And this article from The Weather Channel shows all the tornadoes from the massive outbreak that devastated parts other parts of the south, including Alabama, from April 25-27.
April was Tornado Preparedness Month in many states and unfortunately many people were forced to test their preparations last month in real-life emergencies. While it’s not as easy and clear-cut as left hand — blue, right foot — red, there are directions you should follow if you find yourself in a severe storm.
- If a tornado warning is issued in your area, a tornado has been sighted or indicated by Doppler radar. You need to take cover immediately.
- If you’re in a site-built house, that means you need to go to the basement or storm cellar. If the house you’re in has no basement, choose an interior room on the lowest level, like a closet or bathroom, which is as far from doors, windows, corners and outside walls as possible. Crouch down under a sturdy object and protect your head and neck with your arms.
- If you’re inside a mobile or manufactured home, leave immediately! Never stay in a mobile home during a tornado warning. Even mobile homes equipped with tie-downs can be blown away by the strong winds. If you’re in a mobile home park, it may have a tornado shelter. It’s a smart idea to plan ahead and know how to get to a safe, designated shelter before severe weather strikes.
- Recommendations vary if you’re caught outdoors. While both the Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) stress seeking shelter immediately, they differ on what to do if the only shelter nearby is a car.
- The Red Cross first recommends getting into your car and driving to the nearest sturdy shelter. If flying debris is spotted on the drive, they recommend you pull over and park. From there your options of last resort are: choosing to stay in the car with your seat belt buckled, crouching below the window line and covering your head with your hands; or if it is safe to do so, and you spot a low-lying area, you can choose to get out of the car and lie in a ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands.
- FEMA continues to recommend never trying to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas. If no safe shelter is available, you should lie flat in a nearby ditch, covering your head with your hands.
- Both agree that you should not seek shelter from a tornado under a highway overpass. Overpasses can act like a wind tunnel, placing you at risk of being blown out by strong winds or hit by flying debris.
Dr. Greg Forbes, a severe weather expert at the Weather Channel, broke down the pros and cons of those last two options in a blog from a couple years ago. It’s worth a look, although it’s important to note that article points to an outdated source by the National Weather Service (NWS). The NWS have since changed its guidelines to match the Red Cross. You can view the current NWS guidelines on page 13 of this pdf.
Just remember, tornados can strike quickly and with little warning, and no matter where you live in this country, you still face some tornado risk.
Stay safe through these storm seasons. Your safety is number one to us. For peace of mind when a storm hits your home, contact a Foremost agency to talk about a home insurance policy.