Tornado warnings: know how to stay safe
No one wants to be caught away from safe shelter when a tornado strikes but knowing what to do if this scenario occurs will likely save your life.
The first step to staying safe is understanding these severe weather terms (https://weather.com):
Severe thunderstorm watch: Conditions are conducive to the development of severe thunderstorms in and around the watch area These storms produce hail of 3/4 inch in diameter and/or wind gusts of at least 58 mph.
Severe thunderstorm warning: Issued when a severe thunderstorm has been observed by spotters or indicated on radar and is occurring or imminent in the warning area. These warnings usually last for a period of 30 to 60 minutes.
Tornado watch: Conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms and multiple tornadoes in and around the watch area. People in the affected areas are encouraged to be vigilant in preparation for severe weather.
Tornado warning: Spotters have sighted a tornado, or one has been indicated on radar, and is occurring or imminent in the warning area. When a tornado warning has been issued, people in the affected area are strongly encouraged to take cover immediately.
Tornado emergency: A tornado warning that carries with it a “tornado emergency” is the rarest and is reserved for the direst of situations. This is only issued “when there is a severe threat to human life and catastrophic damage from an imminent or ongoing tornado [National Weather Service].”
If you are in an open area and have no opportunity to reach a building for safety, don’t seek shelter under a highway overpass.
According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) and the Red Cross, “Highway overpasses are NOT tornado shelters, and these should be avoided. Ditches, culverts and ravines should be used only as an absolute last resort. You will be exposed to flying debris, rain and hail, lightning, and extreme wind.”
A safer course of action is to carefully monitor weather conditions anytime you are in a remote area away from home or other safe buildings. If you spot a tornado or are in the path of a tornado that’s been verified to be on the ground, head for a sturdy shelter as quickly as possible.
Along a roadway, safety may be found at a truck stop, convenience store, restaurant or even a walk-in cooler. Once inside a sturdy shelter, go to the basement if possible. If there is no basement, go the center of the building in a hallway or a room without windows. Keep in mind that the Red Cross notes a mobile home is a high-risk structure during a tornado. Your vehicle will be safer than the mobile home.
Whenever possible, get out of the path of the tornado and take the safest shelter until it passes. If you see the tornado in the distance and can determine its movement, drive at a right angle to that movement. For example, if it’s heading east, drive to the south.
If you’re at home when a tornado warning is sounded, don’t attempt to leave. Traffic jams could prevent you from moving away from the storm’s path, or the storm could veer off from its path and quickly put you in harm’s way.