When you live in ‘fly-over country’ like I do, you don’t have to worry about hurricanes or tsunamis. No, America’s breadbasket doesn’t have to worry about earthquakes either. Tornados though? Yeah, that’s definitely a consideration. The deadly twisters have literally leveled entire towns and taken lives without remorse. They are a weather event that is not to be underestimated. Everyone who lives west of the Mississippi and east of the Rocky’s needs to know and prepare for the possibility that they will be in a situation that requires them to survive being smack-dab in the middle of a tornado’s war path. Here are five things you can do to make it through a rendezvous with a vertically oriented rotating column of wind:
Have a plan, and practice it. Like almost any other emergency situation you can encounter, knowing what you’ll do and where you’ll go ahead of time is crucial. Make sure that you identify the safest areas of your house and place of employment, and that you have a specified rendezvous point that everyone knows and can be easily reached. Once you have your plan, make sure you practice it at least once a year with everyone who lives or works with you.
Recognize the warning signs. It almost goes without saying that you need to keep an eye out for a strong, consistent rotation in the cloud base. What may be less obvious is that not all tornadoes have funnels; you need to keep an eye out for whirling debris and brush under a cloud base as well. At night, you’ll want to take note if you hear a loud, low rumble that doesn’t fade in a few seconds like thunder. Finally, if you see flashes of light off in the distance at ground level, that is likely powerlines being snapped by the twister.
Avoid windows. Tornadoes are devastating to existing structures. In addition to shattering glass, tornadoes pose the additional threat of sending it flying through the air as a speeding, deadly projectile. You’re best bet is to find a basement and get in it. If a basement isn’t available, move to the interior of the structure you’re in – preferably a hallway with no windows.
Don’t park under a bridge. It’s gonna be a bad day if you find yourself in close proximity to a tornado while in a vehicle. There is no ‘safe’ option in this scenario, just less-bad ones. If there is a low lying ditch that is significantly below ground level, then go lie flat in that. If not, stay in your vehicle, buckle up, and put your head down. Whatever you do, do NOT park under a bridge, and if possible avoid power lines too. A tornado can make quick work of either, which puts you in danger of being crushed or electrocuted to death.
Don’t enter damaged structures. Once the tornado has passed and the all clear has been given, do not enter damaged structures. They may be unstable, and you don’t know if there is gas leaking or exposed live wires. Wait until the professionals show up, they know what to look for and how to negotiate the obstacles damaged structures present.
BONUS TIP: If you see storm chasers, ask them witch way they are headed… and then go the opposite direction!