Preparing for Tornado Season

Joplin, MO 2011        
Deadly tornadoes tore through the south this last week and it served as yet another reminder that we are now in the middle of the 2014 tornado season. Here are some tips and information you may need during this stormy season.

Know the difference between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning. A tornado watch is the most common. Usually watches are issued for hours and cover a broader area. They are issued when weather conditions are favorable for the event to occur. Warnings are different, a warning means the event is happening right now. When a tornado warning is issued that is the time to get to a safe shelter.

While there is no guaranteed safety during a tornado, it’s always wise to know what to do if you are ever in a tornadoes path.

First, make yourself an emergency tornado kit. Southeast Nebraska is in Tornado Alley. Tornadoes are unpredictable and you need to be prepared for the worst. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a premade kit, you can find cheaper and efficient ways to make your own.

You can use a 5-gallon bucket with a snap lid that can be purchase for under $5.00 or in some cases a basic plastic snap file case, or any plastic container with a lid can work. Use this container to fill with emergency supplies you made need such as:

– Toilet paper…you can use for its intended purpose if you’re trapped or use it for small scratches or scrapes. It can also be used to wrap a wound if need be.

– A reliable flashlight and batteries…You don’t have to have an expensive state of the line flashlight. Just something reliable and bright if you end up trapped. Extra batteries for your light or weather radio are good to keep in a plastic bag as back up.  Emergency glow sticks are also a cheap and effective source of light.

– A Weather Radio…Some weather radios you can purchase have a detachable cord and place for batteries if your power goes out. It is one of the smartest investments you can make living in the Midwest. It can also alert you to when it is safe to come out of your basement or interior room.  They do make hand crank radios you can purchase as well.

– A basic radio…If you don’t want to purchase a Weather Radio, keep a small battery operated or hand crank radio in your kit. It could be a valuable source of information if your cell phone isn’t functional.

– An Air Horn or Whistle…This can be used to alert rescuers if you are trapped under debris.

– A First Aid Kit…Can be used to help treat minor injuries.

– Duct Tape…Can be used to hold larger wounds closed and much more.

– Antibacterial Wipes…Can be used to clean small wounds to prevent infection.

– Bottled water…This can be used to drink if you are trapped or to clean up. You should try to keep at least two bottles per person. Additional bottles of water can be stored in your shelter. Try to keep a three day supply in your shelter if possible.

– Some people keep canned goods in their kit. If you do not have room in your container, you can use cereal bars, crackers, peanut butter or anything else that will keep for a few months and be replaced as they expire.

Other items you can choose to keep in your shelter or kit are rags, current prescription medications, socks, cash or an emergency credit card, written instructions on how to shut off the gas, water and electricity, copies of important documents, a cell phone charger, tennis shoes, sweat shirts and bike helmets.

Most experts agree that one of the most important things you can do before the storm is have a plan in place. Discuss with your family what you will do if there is a tornado. Have a pre-determined place to go if the unexpected does occur. When a tornado watch is issued use that time to have a quick drill or discussion with your family to remind them of what you plan to do if that watch turns into a warning. Most danger that comes with tornadoes is flying debris. Pull out that helmet you stored away and put it on. Experts say it’s best to put as many walls between you and the tornado as possible. There is no best place to hide in your basement. It doesn’t matter if you are in the southwest corner or not. One part of your basement is not safer than the other. If you don’t have a basement or safe room, an interior wall or closet could keep you safe. 

There are a few myths associated with tornadoes. Experts warn that tornadoes are unpredictable.

They will cross rivers and bodies of water and have been known to do so.

They can happen in the mountains and have been documented above 10,000 feet. 

They do hit big cities, as we have seen in Oklahoma City, Atlanta, and Joplin.

Opening windows will not “depressurize” your home. It will only take away from valuable life saving time you need to get to a safe place.

A tornado will never hit the same area twice. They will as we all witnessed in Moore and Shawnee, Oklahoma last year.

The worst tornado myth is hiding under an overpass when in your car. Taking shelter under an overpass is one of the most dangerous things you can do. This myth has grown in size since the early 90’s. A few lucky people were able to hide under an underpass during a storm. They didn’t take a direct hit and were spared. This is wrong. You are putting yourself at a higher elevation with no protection from debris and winds.  You also chance blocking emergency vehicles from getting where they need to be.OKC Sign 30 miles from OKC after the Moore Tornado of 2013

If you are ever caught in a tornado as you travel, try to get out and find shelter near you. Do not hide under your vehicle. If there is no shelter available the National Weather Service recommends one of the following two actions. Stay in your car with the seatbelt fastened. Slump down below the windows and cover yourself with a blanket. If you think you can safely get lower than the roadway, exit your car and lie in that area covering your head with your arms. Trying to outrun a tornado is a bad idea, as we saw last year in the death of Storm Spotter Tim Samaras, even the most weather savvy people can be hit unexpectedly.

If you are in a trailer or mobile home, get out immediately and get to the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building. Even if a mobile home is tied down, it offers little to no protection against tornadoes.

Know the signs of a tornado:
– Every year storm spotter courses are given throughout our area. If you can’t find time for a class, just stay alert to the sky.

– Look and listen to your surroundings. Watch for a strong, persistent rotation, whirling dust and debris on the ground or under a cloud base (tornadoes sometimes have no funnel).

– Watch for hail or heavy rain followed by calm or a fast changing of the winds and listen for a loud roar or rumble that doesn’t fade like thunder. Educate yourself on the differences between strong thunderstorms and wall clouds with the capability of producing a tornado.

After a tornado, if you have been hit keep your family together and wait for rescue workers to arrive. Aide anyone who is injured and stay away from power lines and puddles with wires in them. Avoid broken glass, nails and anything else that can cause injury. Find a clear area to gather and do not use matches or lighters in case there is a gas leak. Stay calm and await instructions.

Not every tornado is going to be like the Joplin, Missouri tornado, but it doesn’t hurt to prepare yourself as if the next storm will be.

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