Tornados are the most common in areas with vast stretches of flat land. In the United States, tornado warnings are often raised between March and May but there have been tornadoes occuring well into December.
The odds of being in the direct path of a tornado are low compared to the odds of being impacted by tornado-associated storms. Even if you are not directly in the path of one, there is still a risk of being hit by damaging winds, hail and power outages resulting from a tornado.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency in the US, there is no such thing as guaranteed safety when it comes to tornadoes. In 2019, the tornado season killed 41 people and injured hundreds more. Of those, 70 percent were living in mobile homes.
Whether a storm leads to a tornado or not, it has to be taken seriously. If you follow safety precautions, your chances of survival or escaping harm will be higher.
Here are some steps to help you prepare for tornado season:
Know the signs of a tornado
The worst thing you can do is to be caught unprepared. Some tornadoes strike so fast that there is little time to give warnings.
That is why knowing the signs of a tornado could mean life or death. Make sure all the members of your household know what to look out for.
These are the signs of an approaching tornado:
- Large hail
- A dark or green-colored sky
- A large, dark, low-lying cloud
- A loud roar that sounds like a freight train
Stay tuned to weather news
Once you see the signs mentioned above, you should immediately keep your ears open for weather updates from the local authorities. Keep your television, radio and weather apps (if there are any) on at all times until the tornado threat has passed.
Some counties have a tornado warning system. Make sure everyone in the house can distinguish between a tornado warning siren and a tornado watch siren.
Once you get news of a tornado watch, do not dilly dally. Make all the necessary preparations. If it is a tornado warning, seek shelter immediately.
Keep fully charged batteries or power banks in a spot dedicated for tornado emergencies. In case there is a power outage, at least you can charge your devices to stay abreast of weather conditions. Also, keep a S.A.M.E. radio and/or a scanner radio that is capable of receiving your county’s Emergency Management frequencies.
Prepare a tornado shelter
The basement is the safest part of a house, as it is least likely to be blown away. If you don’t have a basement, choose the sturdiest part of the house to be the catch-all place for emergency supplies and for shelter. For example, under a sturdy staircase.
If you don’t have that either, pick a heavy table as your protection. Wrap yourself up with a blanket or sleeping bag to protect your body from flying debris, in case flying debris blasts through your windows.
If you are caught outside of your home, look for a building made from concrete. It can stand up better against strong winds than a wooden building. Wherever you are, stay away from anything made of glass as the winds could easily shatter glass, or flying debris could crash through windows and injure you.
Lastly, do not stay inside a mobile home. It can be picked up by a tornado, tossed about by strong winds or be crushed by large flying objects.
Organise your important stuff
Put all your important documents in a single plastic folder. Don’t forget to grab this folder with you when you head to your shelter. Examples of what you can include:
- Birth certificates
- Insurance policies
- Social security cards
- Ownership certificates (automobile, boat, house)
- Household inventory (include serial numbers, if applicable)
- Photographs or videotape of contents of every room
- Photographs of items of high value such as jewelry, paintings and collectables
- Important medical information such as your allergies, regular medications and brief medical history
Include in that folder a list of important telephone numbers. This list can be very useful if your mobile phone battery runs out and there is no way for you to charge your phone after a thunderstorm or tornado hits your area.
Here is a list of numbers you should put in the list:
- Police and fire departments, paramedics, medical centers
- Your insurance agents, including policy types and numbers
- Utility companies
- Your landlord or property manager
- Bank’s or credit union’s telephone number
Stock up your tornado shelter
A list of essential items for the shelter:
- Several first aid kits
- Fire extinguishers
- Work gloves and protective eye goggles
- Tools needed to shut down your home’s utilities
- Several tarps and rope
- Pet cage or Dog Tie-out cable
- Photos of your pets
- Hammer, prybar, saw, nails
- Camping gear (including sleeping bags)
- Ready-to-eat, non-perishable food
- Can openers and cutlery
Additionally, you may want to anchor any strong boxes or gun safes to your basement wall and floor. If standing water could be a problem, elevate them off the floor. If you don’t have a basement, you could anchor them SOLIDLY to the floor joists and wall studs inside of a closet.
Reduce household hazards
If you live in an area with a history of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, tornado-proof your house ahead of time. Minimize the amount of decoration that is breakable.
Ensure your furniture, especially tall cabinetry, are nailed to the walls so that they can’t fall and crush you. Also keep any poisonous household items secure in the same spot, away from your tornado shelter.
Gas leaks are another concern so be sure to learn how to shut your home’s gas supply down. Also, learn how to switch off the power and turn off water valves. Do all of these the minute you see or hear of tornado signs.
Carry out drills
Not everyone can stay calm in times of emergency. Those who have never experienced severe storms or tornadoes could simply freeze in fear.
One way to overcome this is by having your own drills. Carry it out a few times a year so that every member of the household knows exactly what to do when disaster strikes, rather than rush around in a panic.
Organise and assign specific duties to each member. Use a timer during the drills and improve on the timing needed to complete the assigned tasks. Every second count.
If it is possible, make sure everyone knows how to administer basic first aid and how to use a fire extinguisher.
After the storm
Help won’t be far away after a storm so a homeowner’s main priority is staying informed and prepared BEFORE the storm. The Red Cross has pre-arranged shelters for tornado and storm victims. If there aren’t any, you may have to make camp on your property if your home is destroyed by the tornado.
Looting is common after a storm. Authorities will sometimes evacuate severely affected areas and invoke a form of martial law so try to keep your essentials ready to go.
The dangers are not over when the storm has passed. Live electric lines are a seriously deadly possibility and account for many, if not most, of the deaths associated with storms.