According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US experiences approximately 1,200 tornadoes annually, more than any other country. Are you and your family prepared for a natural disaster? Risk Management Solutions, a catastrophe modeling company, says storms in the US result in nearly $17 billion in damages and losses yearly. The more you know about potential hazards, the better you’ll be able to protect your family from harm. Let’s take a look at how to keep your family as safe as possible from tornadoes.
What is a tornado?
The NSSL defines a tornado as “A narrow, violently rotating column of air that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground. Because wind is invisible, it is hard to see a tornado unless it forms a condensation funnel made up of water droplets, dust, and debris.” Essentially, a tornado results from the energy released during a thunderstorm and can produce some of the “Most violent phenomena of all atmospheric storms we experience,” says NSSL.
Where do tornadoes happen?
As stated by NSSL, tornadoes in the US most commonly occur west of the Appalachian Mountains, east of the Rockies, and in the Central Plains. The most damaging tornado recorded was one that hit Tuscaloosa in 2011 resulting in more than $8.5 billion in damages. Which states get the most tornadoes? Texas, Mississippi, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, respectively, but NOAA warns against thinking tornadoes can only occur in the media nicknamed ‘tornado alley’ as they’ve been recorded in all fifty states.
When do tornadoes occur?
While NOAA states tornadoes can happen any time of the year if the conditions are right, there are peak months when certain states see the most tornado activity:
- Gulf Coast – early spring
- Midwest – June to July
- Central Plains – May to June
NOAA also notes that most tornadoes occur between the hours of 4 to 9 p.m.
Tornado watch or a tornado warning?
According to NOAA, a tornado watch means a tornado is possible – it specifies an area where tornadoes and other storms can occur in the imminent future so you’ll need to prepare to shelter if necessary. A tornado warning means either that a tornado has already been identified or that Doppler radar reflects a thunderstorm which can produce a tornado; so you’ll need to get you and your family to your safe place immediately.
Is there a tornado rating system?
During the 1970s, American meteorologist, Ted Fujita, developed a 13-level tornado rating scale while at the University of Chicago. In 2007, the National Weather Service implemented an ‘enhanced Fujita scale’ to help rate tornadoes more consistently and accurately. Here are the basics of the enhanced Fujita tornado rating scale:
|Scale||Estimated Wind Speed (mph)||Potential Damage|
|F0||40-72||Light. Damage to chimneys, broken branches, toppled trees with shallow roots|
|F1||73-112||Moderate. Close to minimum hurricane speed; can push vehicles off roads and mobile homes off foundations|
|F2||113-157||Significant. Torn off roofs, demolished mobile homes, trees uprooted, light objects including glass projectiles can be thrown about|
|F3||158-206||Severe. Houses can be leveled, entire structures are blown away, heavy objects are thrown about|
|F4||207-260||Devastating. Houses levelled, cars become airborne|
|F5||261-318||Incredible. Houses leveled and disintegrated; skyscrapers toppled, large missiles can fly more than 330 feet|
NOAA states that a typical tornado travels approximately 10-20 mph and is on the ground for an average of five minutes.
Additional potential hazards from a tornado
Besides direct damage from a tornado itself, thunderstorms that accompany a tornado can produce damaging winds and flooding, which is the most common and deadly natural disaster in America resulting in an average of $2 billion annually. Blustery winds can generate firestorms and dust storms. A derecho is a powerful storm that produces walls of winds that sweep across the land causing major damage as with the Midwest derecho in August of 2020 that traveled more than 770 miles in 14 hours.
The American Red Cross responds to an emergency event every 8 minutes across the country, including an average of 60,000+ disaster responses annually. Prepping for a natural disaster is key to keeping everyone in your household safe. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) encourages homes to be self-sufficient for a minimum of three days including shelter, food, water, sanitation, medication, first aid supplies, and a battery-operated radio for monitoring local weather alerts. Your family should also have an emergency evacuation plan in place which you should be practiced a few times a year. For more safety information, read Actionable Tips to Make Your Home Safer.
During a tornado
The American Red Cross offers additional tips to help keep you and your family safe during a tornado scenario:
- the safest places to gather in and around your home are in a storm cellar, basement, or an interior room without windows on the lowest floor
- in a condo or apartment building, place yourself in the center of a hallway on the lowest floor you can access without further endangering yourself
- if you’re in a mobile home, go to the designated shelter on the property or a solid nearby building as mobile homes are not safe in natural disasters
- if you’re driving, stay far away from highway overpasses and bridges; if you find yourself trapped in your car among flying debris, hunker down in place, keep the engine running, your seatbelt on, your head down below the car windows, and cover yourself with a blanket or your hands
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Author – Connie Motz