Along with this new season comes some not so fun stuff, too. I'm not talking about mowing the lawn. April marks the beginning of tornado season. When I first moved to Kansas, I was terrified of tornadoes. Every time the sirens went off—even for the monthly test drills—I grabbed my kids and off to the basement we went. Over the past two years, I've learned more about tornado preparedness and now, even though I still cringe every time a siren goes off, I'm not as terrified as I used to be. Here are four steps to get prepared for tornado season.
Severe Weather Radios alert you any time there's a NOAA National Weather Service Announcement. These are the announcements that as kids we hated because our favorite TV programs were interrupted by that long annoying beep and deep staticy voice. At our house, we watch lots of Disney and other cable channels that don't provide the NOAA announcements for our area. We actually have two radios; one upstairs in our living area and another down in our storm basement. I love that you can program the radios to alert you just for the counties you want monitored. Then whenever those counties have a severe weather announcement, that very same long annoying beep goes off and that same staticy voice tells you what's happening. But you know what? I can handle annoying and staticy if it means my family is safe.
#2 – Memorize the Tornado Lingo
Every time a watch or warning came across the radio, I'd freak out. I couldn't remember the difference between the two and what they meant. Here's some lingo for you to memorize:
Tornadoes are possible. Remain alert for approaching storms. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information.
QOTC Tip: I discovered that when a watch is announced, I can get on the NOAA website and go to their maps to see exactly what the path of the coming storm is. Then I can figure out if I need to start preparing for a possible tornado warning.
A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Take shelter immediately.
QOTC Tip: This means you get the kids and high-tail it to the basement. This is no practice!!! It doesn't necessarily mean the tornado is headed directly for your house or even your neighborhood, but it does mean there's a tornado in the area that could come in your direction. I know several people who actually go outside to see if they can see a tornado. DO NOT be stupid, people! Be SAFE!!! If you want to see a tornado, watch Storm Chasers on the Discovery Channel.
There are approximately 800-1000 tornadoes each year in the U.S.
Every state is risk for tornadoes.
Tornadoes can strike quickly with little or no warning.
They can appear nearly transparent until they touch down to the ground. At this point, dust and debris are picked up and make the tornado easy to see.
Tornadoes are sometimes hidden by rain or low-hanging clouds.
They can move in any direction.
Their average speed is 30 MPH, but they can also stay in one location without moving or be as fast as 70 MPH. Their wind speed can reach 300 MPH.
Tornadoes usually form during thunderstorms and can be accompanied by large hail. Tornadoes also develop during tropical storms and hurricanes.
In the Great Plains area, tornadoes often occur when it's not raining.
Tornado danger signs: Dark, greenish sky; Large hail; Large, dark, low-lying cloud (may or may not be rotating), Loud roar like a train
Peak tornado seasons: Southern U.S. - March through May; Northern U.S. - late spring through early summer (approximately May through July).
Choose a safe location in your home for your tornado shelter. The best place is a basement with no windows. If you do not have a basement, choose an area on the lowest level of your home on an interior wall. Put as many walls between you and the outside as you can. Stay away from windows. A closet or space under the stairs is a good location.
Put together a tornado emergency kit. In the corner of our basement, we have water bottles, fruit snacks and other munchies, a first aide kit, pillows, blankets, children's books, and our weather radio. We also grab our home phone and cell phone, if we have time. While we are in the basement, waiting to see if there will be a tornado nearby, we sit on the pillows, read books, and munch if we get hungry. Next on my purchase list: a 5 gallon bucket porta-potty. It never fails that when we're in the basement for a warning, one or more of my kids needs to go to the bathroom!
If you have children of various ages, talk with the older children about helping younger children to the basement. Have a roll-call as soon as you are together.
Practice your plan every month during spring and summer. In our city, the first Wednesday of each month at 11 am, the tornado sirens are tested. This reminds me that it's time for our family to practice our tornado drill that evening as well. Choose a day to consistently practice with your family. The more often you practice, the less scary it is when there actually is a tornado warning.
Talk with your kids about what to do if the tornado sirens go off and they aren't at home. What if you're outside with no where to go? Lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands. Do not get under an overpass or bridge! And never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas with a vehicle. Other drivers are in a panic and there's a great potential for bad accidents. It's safer to leave your car and head for safe shelter. No matter where you are, watch for flying debris. It causes the most fatalities and injuries during a tornado.
To learn more about tornadoes and tornado preparedness, visit the following websites: