Tornado Alley: Safety Guide

Tornado Alley: Safety Guide

Austin Gilmore, Staff Writer

It is a nice and warm spring day in the month of May. You are outside enjoying the weather. You see a storm approaching your town and you go inside. Suddenly, the tornado sirens go off. You have to think fast to get you and your family to safety. What do you do?

May is the most active month for tornadoes. Tornadoes form when a cold front containing dry, and cold air meet a warm front containing warm, and moist air. When those two fronts combine with a low-pressure system, the conditions become favorable for supercell thunderstorms, and sometimes a tornado. Tornadoes are known as some of the fastest wind storms on earth. They can travel at speeds of up to 75 mph, and can carry rotating wind speeds of up to over 300 mph. The most dangerous tornadoes are the large wedge EF-5’s, otherwise known as “The Finger of God.” Those tornadoes can grow in size from a mile to 2.6 miles wide and are the most responsible for loss of life and damage to properties. So in order to be able to survive these powerful forces of mother nature, here are lots of safety tips to survive a tornado.

Before you go enjoy the day, check your local weather station and pay attention to the forecasts. If the National Weather Service (NWS) issues a tornado watch, it means the conditions are favorable for tornadoes to occur. A tornado warning means that either a tornado has been detected on radar or has been spotted on the ground by storm spotters. The most obvious signs of tornado producing thunderstorms are the supercells. These storms have a bowl shape and pack a lot of rain. The most convenient place you will spot a tornado is below a wall cloud. The wall cloud is a rotating cloud below the storm. The stronger it gets, the more likely it will begin to form a funnel cloud. A funnel cloud is the beginning of a tornado, but it is not officially a tornado until it touches the ground. You can figure out which way the tornado is moving is by looking at it. If it moves left, it is going left. If it goes right, it goes right. If it is standing still and looks as if it is getting bigger, it is headed in your direction.

Depending on the size of the tornado, you can get a good look at how powerful it is. Tornadoes can form in many sizes from elephant trunks, to cones, to the monster wedge tornado that are sometimes wider than the cloud it formed from to the ground. If you are at home during a tornado warning, the most obvious safety spot is in the basement or a storm cellar underground.  Stock up some supplies like food, water, clothes, and batteries and lamps. Even a whistle to let others know where you are should a tornado cover your safety area with debris. All these items will help keep you alive until medical help arrives after the tornado is gone. If you don’t have a basement, hide in the bathroom in the bathtub. If you go in the bathtub, grab some pillows and blankets to protect yourself and your family from flying debris inside the tornado.

Debris occurs when the tornado destroys an object and it gets caught in the vortex. Even a small piece of wood can cut through bricks like a hot knife through butter when traveling at 200 mph in the tornado. If no bathroom or basement is available, put yourself in a hallway or interior room with no windows. Put as many walls between you and the tornado to keep yourself safe. Don’t open your windows in your home to try to equalize the pressure in the tornado. All that does is make it easier for the tornado to rip the roof off and demolish the house.

If you are on the highway and caught with a tornado headed your way, get out of your car immediately. Don’t try to outrun the tornado because they can change directions at any time and very quickly. And if the road is blocked by debris, you may have trapped yourself. Cars are not at all the safest place to be in a tornado because those rotating upward winds in the tornado can easily pick up those vehicles and toss the around like toys. Once you are out of your car, get into a ditch in the ground and crouch down and cover your head. Once the tornado has passed and you are still alive, if there is cell service and you still have your phone, try to call to the police station and let them know about the tornado. You could possibly save someone from the oncoming monster.

Tornadoes are not to be messed with. They are one of the most powerful forms of natural disasters, and the aftermath is costly. One of the most dangerous tornadoes in the world happened here in the United States on May 22, 2011. A monster EF-5 rain-wrapped tornado, destroyed the town of Joplin, Missouri. Over 100 people lost their lives and over 2 billion dollars estimated in property damage, making it the costliest tornado in history and a day that no one will ever forget. Joplin was just one of many towns in 2011 that suffered a huge loss after a tornado. 2011 became the 4th deadliest tornado season on record with tornado outbreaks happening all year, but the most violent outbreak happened from April 25-28, during the Super Outbreak. Mississippi and Alabama took a direct hit on the 27th when roaring monster EF-4 and EF-5 tornadoes struck all across the southern United States. Over 300 people lost their lives in that outbreak.

The last EF-5 tornado happened in May of 2016. When the next one will happen, no one knows. So that is why when the sirens go off, please get to shelter immediately. Do not stop to get video of the tornado or to keep watching it. Get to safety as quickly as possible because your life depends on it. There is a storm coming, and we don’t know how strong it will get until it happens. That is why we need to handle these situations with extreme caution. If you hear the sirens going off, get to your shelter and wait it out until the radio says it is safe to leave your shelter. Please take cover. Stay safe out there.