Tornado safety: what you need to know to protect your family
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on April 30th, 2011
The killer tornadoes that pummeled the South this week have lessons for everyone
More than 340 people died in two days earlier this week – and the death toll is still rising – due to scores of hugely powerful tornadoes that ripped through Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, Kentucky and Virginia.
It’s being called the worst tornado-related death toll since March 18, 1925 when 747 people were killed in one day in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana by a string of tornadoes that ravaged through those states, according to a story in The Los Angeles Times.
This week’s storms were just as menacing, with “more than 211 tornadoes were reported within a few hours’ span on Wednesday,” reported The Christian Science Monitor. One of those tornadoes, which “may have traveled in excess of 220 miles across Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, carrying wind speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour,” could make it the most powerful tornado ever recorded in the U.S., according to the Monitor.
Thousands of people were injured and whole street blocks, neighborhoods and communities simply vanished from the fury of the twisters, leaving concrete foundations and little else that was recognizable.
For each family affected by the storms and the devastation, it will be something they never forget.
The death toll, however, could have even been greater, but weather alerts and tornado warning sirens and related systems likely saved many lives, according to experts.
Tornadoes do happen even here in southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and surrounds, so knowing about tornado safety is very important.
Keeping your family aware about tornadoes and what to do if one forms in your area can literally mean the difference between life and death.
A MyPhillyLawyer Tornado Safety Guide
Most tornadoes occur in the U.S. in the spring and early summer from April through July, according to Weather.com, with most happening in May and June. “But like thunderstorms, tornadoes can form any time of the year,” according to Weather.com.
That means never taking storm warnings lightly when you hear them on television, radio or over emergency sirens in your community.
A “tornado watch” means that conditions are “conducive” to the formation of tornadoes in the area, while a “tornado warning” means that a tornado has actually formed and has been seen on radar or by weather spotters.
A “tornado warning” is the most critical warning level because it means that tornadoes are happening in your area or about to affect your area imminently.
Severe thunderstorms often accompany tornadoes, so it’s also important to know about severe thunderstorms as they approach, according to Weather.com.
A “severe thunderstorm watch” means that conditions are “conducive” to the development of severe thunderstorms in the area, while a “severe thunderstorm warning” means that a severe thunderstorm has actually formed and has been seen on radar or by weather spotters.
Whenever severe weather approaches, with high winds, heavy rains, hail and other dangerous conditions, be sure to tune in to TV, radio or the Internet to find out about whether watches or warnings have been issued in your area, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
An invaluable source for detailed local weather information is the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Weather Radio, as well as the NOAA Web site.
If you hear a tornado warning, you must immediately take the following critical steps to best protect yourself and your family, according to NOAA:
If you are indoors –
- Abandon mobile homes — they are not safe even when tied down. Go to a designated shelter.
- Go to a basement or interior room on the lowest floor (bathroom or closet without windows, under stairs). Get under a sturdy piece of furniture.
- Cover yourself with a mattress or blanket.
- Put bicycle helmets on children inside your shelter to better protect them.
- Put on sturdy shoes to prepare yourself to walk amid the damage outside if a dangerous storm does strike your area.
- Put infants in car seats to better protect them inside your storm shelter.
- If you have time, gather prescription medications, your wallet and keys so you have them in the event of a prolonged emergency.
- DO NOT open your windows!
If you are inside a vehicle when a tornado strikes –
- Leave the vehicle for sturdy shelter or drive 180 degrees away from the tornado’s path.
- DO NOT hide under overpasses — they provide no shelter
- Last resort actions – stay in your vehicle or abandon it and find a roadside ditch where you can get yourself as low as possible to ride out the storm.
If you are outdoors when a tornado strikes:
- Find a culvert or cave and take immediate shelter.
- Find something to hang onto wherever you are and remain as low as possible.
- Lie flat in a ditch.
- Cover your head to protect yourself as best as you can.
To better protect your family, you should have an emergency plan that everyone in the family has practiced and understands, according to the CDC.
The family emergency plan should include:
- A sketch of the floor plan where you live and a physical walk-through of each room so you can all discuss where to meet in the house in the event of an emergency.
- A second way to exit from each room or area in case the primary escape route is cut off by damage. If you need special equipment, such as a rope ladder, mark where it is located.
- Make sure everyone understands the community warning siren system, if there’s such a system in your area.
- Mark where your first-aid kit and fire extinguishers are located.
- Mark where the utility switches or valves are located so they can be turned off if there is enough time in an emergency.
- Teach your family how to administer basic first aid, how to use a fire extinguisher, and how and when to turn off water, gas, and electricity in your home.
- Learn the emergency dismissal policy for your child’s school.
- Make sure your children know what a tornado is, what tornado watches and warnings are, what county or local municipality they live in (so they can find and use the information in weather warnings) and how to take shelter, whether at home or at school.
Tornadoes and other devastating severe weather can strike anytime, anywhere.
Making sure that you and your loved ones are well-prepared is critical to ensuring that you stay alive when severe weather strikes your community.
In the tragic aftermath of the tornadoes that have caused so much destruction this week in the South, we here at MyPhillyLawyer also want to encourage you to make a generous donation to The American Red Cross, The Salvation Army or another legitimate aid organization to help the thousands of families whose lives have been turned upside down.
Our prayers are with the survivors as they work to rebuild their lives and communities.