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Tornados can strike anywhere – be prepared!

If you don’t live in “tornado alley” you probably haven’t given much thought to tornados, but you should. Tornados can strike anywhere when the conditions are right, so don’t think you are exempt from needing to know how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

When my daughter was in first grade we were headed home from an outing and I noticed an odd greenish color in the sky. She had just learned about weather in her first-grade class, so I pointed out the sky and told her “that is what the sky would look like if we had tornados around here”. Boy was I wrong. The sky color made me nervous enough that I opted to drive a different route home and it is a good thing we did, or we would have driven right in the midst of an EF-2 tornado with winds speeds estimated at 120mph. Instead, we just caught the hail end of it, which left hail piled up 4-5 inches deep on the road in the span of a minute or less.

The best way to stay safe during a tornado is to be prepared.   

In particular, if you live in “tornado country” you will want to put together a kit that includes the following:

  • Fresh batteries and a battery-operated TV, radio, or internet-enabled device to listen to the latest emergency weather information;
  • A tornado emergency plan including access to a safe shelter for yourself, your family, and for people with special needs and your pets;
  • An emergency kit (including water, non-perishable food, and medication); and
  • A list of important information, including telephone numbers.

Be sure your children know what a tornado is, what tornado watches and warnings are, what county or parish they live in (warnings are typically issued by county or parish), and what makes a location a safe shelter, whether at home or at school.

Pay attention to your weather – especially in areas not prone to tornados where there isn’t a warning system.

To protect yourself and your family from harm during a tornado, pay close attention to changing weather conditions in your area. If you know thunderstorms are expected, stay tuned to local radio and TV stations or a NOAA weather radio for further weather information. Some tornadoes strike rapidly without time for a tornado warning. The following weather signs may mean that a tornado is approaching:

  • A dark or green-colored sky
  • A large, dark, low-lying cloud
  • Large hail
  • A loud roar that sounds like a freight train

If you notice any of these conditions, take cover immediately, and keep tuned to local radio and TV stations or to a NOAA weather radio or check the internet.

Know where to seek shelter

Falling and flying debris cause most deaths and injuries during a tornado. Although there is no completely safe place during a tornado, some locations are much safer than others.

  • Go to the basement or an inside room without windows on the lowest floor (bathroom, closet, center hallway).
  • Avoid windows.
  • For added protection get under something sturdy (a heavy table or workbench). Cover your body with a blanket, sleeping bag or mattress. Protect your head with anything available.
  • Do not stay in a mobile home.
  • If you are outside or in a mobile home, find a nearby building preferably with a basement. If you are in a car, do not try to outrun a tornado but instead find the nearest sturdy building.

No one can know a tornado’s strength before it touches down, so keep up with local weather information, especially when thunderstorms are forecast. Prepare your home and family for the possibility of a tornado. Moving to shelter quickly is easier when everyone knows where to go, whether in your home or outdoors. Following these tips will give you the best chance for staying safe in a tornado.

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