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Severe Weather 101: Tornadoes

March 18 to the 24 is Spring Severe Weather Awareness Week in Ohio. Each day this week I’ll post tips and ideas to keep you prepared and safe during our most active severe weather period – springtime.

Take some time this week to refresh your severe thunderstorm and tornado plan. Know what you and your family will do when severe weather threatens.

Today’s Subject: Tornadoes

Tornadoes get the big headlines but, thankfully, they’re fairly rare here in the Tuscarawas Valley. We’ve had a total of 14 tornadoes touch down in the Tuscarawas Valley since 1950, according to official records at the National Weather Service.

Our neighbors in Carroll County have been hit by a tornado only half as many times since 1950 – seven to be exact. BUT folks in Carroll County have been hit by a tornado 3 times in 2013 alone. 2013 brought one tornado to Tuscarawas County – the one that ripped through Mineral City destroying their fire department along with damaging many homes in the area.

So, yes, tornadoes, although not all that common in our area, do present a threat. No fatalities have been associated with tornadoes in Tuscarawas or Carroll counties since records began in 1950.

FACT: 39 tornadoes touched down in Ohio during 2017

Tornado Safety
  • Take responsibility for your safety and be prepared before a watch or warning is issued. Meet with household members to develop a disaster plan to respond to tornado watches and warnings. Conduct regular tornado drills. When a tornado watch is issued, review your plan – don’t wait for the watch to become a warning. Learn how to turn off the water, gas and electricity at the main switches.
  • Despite Doppler radar, tornadoes can sometimes occur without any warning, allowing very little time to act. It is important to know the basics of tornado safety. Know the difference between tornado watches and tornado warnings.
  • Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or to your local radio or television stations for the latest weather and safety information. In any emergency, always listen to the instructions given by local emergency management officials
  • If you are a person with special needs, register your name and address with your local emergency management agency, police and fire departments before any natural or man-made disaster.
  • NOAA Weather Radio has available an alerting tool for people who are deaf or have hearing impairments. Some weather radio receivers can be connected to an existing home security system, much the same as a doorbell, smoke detector or other sensor. For additional information, click here.
  • The safest place to be during a tornado is a basement. If the building has no basement or cellar, go to a small room (a bathroom or closet) on the lowest level of the structure, away from windows and as close to the center of the building as possible.
  • Be aware of emergency shelter plans in stores, offices and schools. If no specific shelter has been identified, move to the building’s lowest level. Try to avoid areas with large glass windows, large rooms and wide-span roofs such as auditoriums, cafeterias, large hallways or shopping malls.
  • Be alert to changing weather conditions. Look for approaching storms. Look for the following danger signs:
    • Dark, often greenish sky
    • Large hail
    • A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly, if rotating)
    • Loud roar, similar to a freight train
    • If you see approaching storms or any of the danger signs, be prepared to take shelter immediately
During a Tornado
  • If you’re outside or in a mobile home, find shelter immediately by going to the lowest level of a nearby sturdy building or to a pre-designated area, such as a safe room. Safe rooms and sturdy buildings are the safest structures to be in when tornadoes threaten. Mobile or manufactured homes, even if tied down, do not offer protection from tornadoes.
  • If you cannot quickly get to a shelter, get into your vehicle, buckle your seatbelt and try to drive to the nearest sturdy shelter or pre-designated safe room.
  • If you experience flying debris while driving, pull over and park. Choose to either stay in your vehicle, stay buckled up, duck down below the windows and cover your head with your hands. Or find a depression or ditch, exit your vehicle, kneel or lie face-down in the depression, and use your arms and hands to protect your head.
  • Never seek shelter under highway overpasses and bridges. You are safer in a low, flat location.
  • Never try to out-drive a tornado in urban or congested areas. Instead, leave the vehicle immediately for protection in a sturdy building.
  • Outdoor areas are not protection from flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.
After a Tornado
  • If you are trapped, do not move about or kick up dust. Tap on a pipe or wall or use a whistle, if you have one, so that rescuers can locate you.
  • Listen to local officials for updates and instructions.
  • Check-in with family, friends and neighbors by texting or using social media. Save calling on the phone for emergencies. Dial 911 for life-threatening or serious emergencies.
  • Watch out for debris and downed power lines.
  • Stay out of damaged buildings and homes until local authorities indicate it is safe.
  • Use extreme caution during post-disaster clean-up of buildings and around debris. Do not attempt to remove heavy debris by yourself.
  • Photograph the damage to your property in order to assist in filing an insurance claim.
  • Do what you can to prevent further damage to your property (e.g., putting a tarp on a damaged roof), as insurance may not cover additional damage that occurs after the storm.
  • If your home is without power, use flashlights or battery-powered lanterns, rather than candles, to prevent accidental fires.

MAKING A TORNADO
Tornadoes develop from severe thunderstorms but not every severe thunderstorm will create a tornado. It takes a special kind of severe thunderstorm known as a ‘supercell thunderstorm’.

Supercell storms develop when warm moist air from the South migrates north and collides with cool North air. These two don’t like each other very much, so when they meet, very strong supercell thunderstorms can develop – not always, but sometimes. Studies indicate that one thunderstorm in a thousand produce tornadoes.

It’s important to note that not every low hanging cloud in a thunderstorm is a tornado. Thunderstorms produce a variety of cloud shapes and many of these detach from the thunderstorm and can appear to be a tornado to the untrained eye. I’ve seen a ton of social media posts where people freak out over a ‘scud’ cloud believing that they’re witnessing a tornado.

Scud clouds are harmless SLC’s (Scarry Looking Clouds) and very rarely make contact with the ground.

TORNADO WATHCES AND WARNINGS
Just as it is with severe thunderstorms, the National Weather Service can issue watches and warnings for tornadoes. Tornado WATCHES are issued when atmospheric conditions are favorable for tornadoes to form in thunderstorms. And, just like it is with severe storm watches, tornado watches usually include a large WATCH area comprising of several counties.

A WATCH simply means tornadoes CAN form. It doesn’t mean they WILL form. Have a plan in place and know exactly where there is a substantial shelter you can get too quickly in the event of a warning.

A TORNADO WARNING is serious business. A WARNING means that a tornado has been spotted or one has been detected on radar. A TORNADO WARNING means you need to take immediate action to protect yourself and your family. Get to the lowest level in a building, such as a basement. If you don’t have a basement, get to the innermost interior of your home surrounded by walls. Stay away from windows and doors.

YOU AND YOUR FAMILY ARE NOT SAFE IN A MOBILE HOME DURING A TORNADO WARNING.

A Tornado Warning is issued for a much smaller area and often include only a portion of a county or counties.

KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE
I’ve noticed through my social media activity that way too many people have no idea where they live. They haven’t a clue where Tuscarawas County is on an Ohio map. Worse yet, they don’t know their approximate location on a map of our county.

Weather headlines are almost always issued by county and most weather warnings only include parts of a county. If you haven’t a clue where you are in relation to a state of county map, how in the world do you know if you’re in an area threatened by severe weather. If you’re one who can’t find or don’t know your towns’

If you’re one who can’t find or don’t know your town’s approximate location on a state or county map, your first step in saving yourself and family from danger is to LEARN WHERE YOU LIVE. At least have a general idea of your location on an Ohio map. Type your address in Google maps and you’ll get a zoomable map showing where you are in less than 10 seconds.

STAY INFORMED AND HAVE A RELIABLE WAY TO RECEIVE WEATHER WARNINGS
Your best defense against injury or death from severe weather events – including tornadoes – is knowledge, current information, and a plan. You have many ways to get information instantly – your cell, local radio and TV, the internet. Use them to your advantage and keep up with the latest local weather information.

THE ABSOLUTE BEST WAY to keep informed is with an NOAA Weather Radio. These little radio receivers are programmable for our area and can be completely customized for specific alerts issued by the National Weather Service. They automatically sound an alert when those alerts are issued – DAY OR NIGHT. Many retail stores and online stores have these inexpensive radios starting at around $30.

I’ll discuss weather radios in detail in a later blog this week.

There are also several good weather warning apps available that will sound an alarm. The Red Cross and FEMA both offer free reliable weather warning apps. Just make sure you have the warning criteria set properly for your area and you keep the app active day AND NIGHT.

Local media – TV and Radio – also offer severe weather information. HOWEVER, expect delays in alerts as the headlines are pushed to the outlet. And, what about storms at night? Do you leave the TV or radio on all night? We’re the most vulnerable when we’re sleeping and alerts during nighttime severe weather is critical. While these methodes are great during the day, it would be best to use a weather radio or app for nighttime alerts. Think smoke alarm.

DO NOT RELY ON OUTDOOR TORNADO SIRENS AS YOUR WARNING METHOD!
Many folks mistakenly think outdoor tornado sirens are the best warning idea ever. Not really. Tornado sirens are meant as a warning system for folks who are OUTSIDE – they’re not meant to warn you in your home.

Outdoor sirens are an idea adapted from technology developed during World War II. We’ve come a long way in warning technology since the 1940s. No one – absolutely no one – recommends outdoor tornado sirens as a primary tornado warning system.

Simply put – JUST DON’T RELY ON A TORNADO SIREN TO WARN YOU IN THE EVENT OF A TORNADO.

We’ll be discussing more severe weather safety all this week in the blog. It’s been a while since we’ve had to deal with spring and summertime severe weather so take some time this week to refresh your severe weather knowledge.

Knowledge and preparation are our only defense against severe weather. Chances are severe weather will affect you and your family at some point over the next 9 months. Be prepared, not scared.

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