Although tornados occur in many parts of the world, they are found most frequently in the United States. In an average year, 1,200 tornadoes cause 70 fatalities and 1,500 injuries nationwide.
A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground. Tornados may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms within the funnel. The average tornado moves from southwest to northeast, but tornados have been known to move in any direction.
The average forward speed is 30 mph but may vary from nearly stationary to 70 mph. The strongest tornadoes have rotating winds of more than 250 mph.
Tornadoes can accompany tropical storms and hurricanes as they move onto land. Waterspouts are tornadoes, which form over warm water. They can move onshore and cause damage to coastal areas.
Question: Tornados are most frequent in the United States, averaging 1,200 per year.
When conditions are favorable for severe weather to develop, a severe thunderstorm or tornado WATCH is issued by the National Weather Service. Weather Service personnel use information from weather radar, spotters, and other sources to issue severe thunderstorm and tornado WARNINGS for areas where severe weather is imminent. The warnings are passed on to local radio and television stations and are broadcast over local NOAA Weather Radio stations serving the warned areas. These warnings are also relayed to local emergency management and public safety officials who can activate local warning systems to alert communities. The difference between a Watch and a Warning: A tornado WATCH means that tornadoes are possible in your area. A tornado warning means that a tornado has been sighted or indicated on radar.
Question: A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for a tornado to develop.
No place is safe from tornadoes. Violent winds and debris slamming into buildings cause most structural damage. If a tornado warning sounds, leave your windows alone. The most important action is to immediately go to a safe shelter. If you are driving, the best thing you can do is to seek the best available shelter. Many people are injured or killed when remaining in their vehicles. If you are out in the open, take shelter in a sturdy reinforced building if at all possible. Overpasses, ditches, and culverts may provide limited protection from a tornado, but your risk will be greatly reduced by moving inside a strong building.
Question: The most important action you can take if you are driving and a tornado warning sounds is to accelerate your speed so you can get to your destination quicker.
Postpone outdoor activities if thunderstorms are imminent. This is your best way to avoid being caught in a dangerous situation. Move to a sturdy building or car. Do not take shelter in small sheds, under isolated trees, or in convertible automobiles. Stay away from tall objects such as towers, fences, telephone poles and power lines. If lightning is occurring and a sturdy shelter is not available, get inside a hard top automobile and keep the windows up. Avoid touching any metal. Utility lines and metal pipes can conduct electricity. Unplug appliances not necessary for obtaining weather information. Avoid using the telephone or any electrical appliances. Use phones ONLY in an emergency. Do not take a bath or shower during a thunderstorm. Turn off air conditioners. Power surges from lightning can cause serious damage.
Question: The best way to avoid being caught in a dangerous situation is to postpone outdoor activities if thunderstorms are imminent.
If you are caught outdoors and no shelter is nearby, find a low spot away from trees, fences, and poles. Make sure the place you pick is not subject to flooding. If you are in the woods, take shelter under the shorter trees.
If you feel your skin tingle or your hair stand on end, squat low to the ground on the balls of your feet. Place your hands over your ears and your head between your knees. Make yourself the smallest target possible and minimize your contact with the ground. DO NOT lie down. If you are boating or swimming, get to land and find shelter immediately!
Question: If you are caught outside during a lightning storm you should take shelter near tall objects such as towers, fences, telephone poles and power lines.
Tornado Safety Rules: If you are in a home or building, move to a pre-designated shelter, such as a basement.
If an underground shelter is not available, move to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor and get under a sturdy piece of furniture. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Stay away from windows. Get out of automobiles. Do not try to outrun a tornado in your car. Instead, leave it immediately for safe shelter. If caught outside or in a vehicle, lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands.
Question: It is important to stay close to your windows during a tornado so you can track its movement.
Be aware of flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries. Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes. You should leave a mobile home and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy nearby building or a storm shelter. If a tornado watch comes in to effect while in the community with persons served, staff should notify the persons served and finish their business as soon as possible so they can return home. If a tornado warning comes into effect when in the community with persons served, staff should find the nearest safe shelter and go to it immediately.
Question: If a tornado warning comes into effect when you are out shopping with persons served you should finish your shopping and take the persons served home.
Flash Flood Safety: Avoid walking, swimming, or driving in floodwaters. Stay away from high water, storm drains, ditches, ravines, or culverts. If it is moving swiftly, even water six inches deep can knock you off you feet. If you come upon floodwaters, stop, turn around, and go another way. Climb to higher ground. Do not let children play near storm drains.
Question: If you are caught in flood waters you should wait until the water gets deep enough so you can swim to safety.