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Take the time now to prepare and get all the facts on how to stay safe in severe weather. Know what your course of action will be well before severe storms strike.
— NWS Tulsa (@NWStulsa) April 6, 2015
Starting off with the basics of what a tornado is, per the American Meteorological Society Glossary: a tornado is a rotating column of air, in contact with the surface.
Tornadoes are rated based on the damage they cause and assigned a number on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. Via the SPC, here is breakdown of the scale:
EF0: Wind speeds of 65-85mph. Tree branches can be broken off or small trees pushed over. Damage is mainly superficial.
EF1: Wind speeds of 86-110mph. Winds have reached hurricane force. Shingles can be torn from roofs. Mobile homes and small cars can be pushed over or flipped.
EF2: Wind speeds of 111-135mph. Mobile homes can be completely destroyed. Train box cars can be overturned. Roofs can be torn from homes and walls of weaker structures can be toppled, with the walls of well-built structures sustaining damage.
EF3: Wind speeds of 136-166mph. Well-constructed buildings can sustain major damage. Heavy train cars can be pushed from tracks, with smaller vehicles becoming projectiles. It is at this point that tornadoes turn significantly more deadly.
EF4: Wind speeds of 166-200mph. House can be swept completely away. Well-built structures are reduced to a pile of rubble. Large vehicles can be thrown, while smaller vehicles can be carried lengthy distances.
EF5: Wind speeds of 200mph or greater. Any buildings or objects in the path of this tornado are nearly always a complete loss, with debris being thrown for miles. What does remain is reduced to particles that are unrecognizable. Large buildings and vehicles made of steel can be mangled beyond recognition. Asphalt can be stripped from the road.
A well known example of an EF5 tornado is the one that obliterated the town of Greensburg, Kansas. The tornado tore through the town after dark on May 4, 2007. It was 1.7 miles wide and cut a path of 22 miles through the rural farmland of south central Kansas. Google provided images of the town before and after and shows just how total the destruction was.
After reading that and seeing the before and after images, it becomes clear just how great a threat tornadoes can be to life and property. So what can you do to be prepared and able to stay safe when a tornado strikes your location?
One of the most imperative things to check off the list is to have a way to receive warnings. The number one choice is a NOAA Weather Radio. This will alert you of warnings at all times, which could be life-saving if something hits in the middle of the night when you would not be as aware of the weather. It is also important to know the difference between a Watch and a Warning.
A common mistake that can be made is to wait until a siren is heard. Unless you are outside, this will not help you. Sirens are only meant to serve as a warning to those outdoors. That being said, there are many other ways to receive warnings. Most weather apps, including the AccuWeather app, have push notifications for when a warning is issued for your location. The radio and television are also a way to receive warnings. Your local tv station meteorologist will likely be doing live coverage of the severe weather event. One thing to keep in mind is to still have a way to receive information once you take shelter. The NOAA weather radio and other radios are easily able to be taken into shelter, as are cell phones. It's important to buy extra batteries for these items and make sure they are fully charged before the event begins, especially since power may be lost and out for hours, if not a few days.
Once a warning is issued, it's very important to know what steps to take to put yourself in the best position to survive a direct hit from a tornado.
If you are indoors: -Go to a pre-designated shelter, such as a basement, a bathroom or an inner room with no windows. Put as many walls between your self and the outer wall as possible. Do not take the time to open windows. It is a myth that this will help wind flow through the house. It is a waste of time and will not prevent any damage from occurring. If possible, take shelter under a sturdy table, or pull a mattress over yourself. This will keep debris from falling directly on your head and body. It may seem silly, but experts also suggest wearing a helmet. There have been many times someone has survived a tornado due to good head protection.
If you are outdoors: -Get to the nearest building or shelter if one is close by. Do NOT seek shelter in a car or mobile home. If no shelter is available, get to the lowest ground possible and cover your head. Be aware of the potential for flooding while sheltering in a low-lying place. Do NOT seek shelter under a bridge or overpass. When a tornado is passing over a bridge, winds become forced underneath it and a tunneling effect is created and this increases the wind speed. Never try to outrun a tornado, on foot or in a car.
For more tips and information on severe weather, check out these stories:
Also helpful are weather safety tips from Fema.
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