Tornadoes are scary to think about. We don't have any control over when they occur or how much damage they cause. While we can't stop them from impacting our towns and homes, we can control our reactions and be prepared for extreme conditions. It's important to educate yourself on tornado safety to at least keep yourself from being hurt if a tornado does come along.
There are certain states that are more prone to tornadoes than others. This area of the country is known as Tornado Alley and generally covers the Great Plains from South Dakota down to Texas.
However, there are other areas of the country that tend to see more tornadoes than average. Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia — an area referred to as Dixie Alley — are at risk of severe storms in the Spring. Tornadoes are also common in Florida during hurricane season when those storms make landfall. In fact, tornadoes have been reported in all 50 states.
So, even if you don't live in one of the most tornado-prone areas, you should familiarize yourself with the difference between a tornado watch and warning. For good measure, you should also know what a PDS watch and tornado emergency are.
When there's a watch, it means you need to start preparing. A tornado hasn't been spotted yet, but one could develop in your area over the next few hours.
Watch the weather conditions and notice changes in the clouds and wind speeds. Common signs that a tornado might be coming are dark, low clouds that are either rotating or have a green or orange tint, large hailstones and winds that are loud and sound like a freight train.
Keep up with your local news and weather stations for updates on conditions. A watch can be issued hours before a tornado shows up, so make good use of the time you're given to prepare. Make sure you have a 72-hour kit and keep it somewhere accessible. Go over your emergency plan and know where you can take shelter if needed, such as a basement or lower floor in your apartment building or any other building with a solid foundation.
While any tornado is dangerous and should be taken seriously, a particularly dangerous situation (PDS) watch is issued when it's believed that violent tornadoes or an outbreak are likely in your area.
These watches are rare but should be taken very seriously. If a PDS watch is issued in your area, you need to think about changing plans so you're near a secure place should bad weather approach.
If a warning has been issued, that means a tornado was picked up by radar or was spotted visually. Tornadoes can form quickly and, unlike a watch, a warning can be issued with just minutes to spare.
In fact, the average warning time is only 13 minutes before the storm reaches you. This means it's time to take action in order to keep yourself safe.
The first thing you should do is take shelter right away. Get out of any car or mobile home, if possible, and into a sturdy building. Most deaths and injuries that result from tornadoes are caused by flying debris, so you need to get into a safe, closed space where your chances of being hit by flying objects are reduced.
Don't think you can drive faster than a tornado — you can't. Go to the nearest secure house or building and stay on the lowest level possible. If you're outside and not near a stable building, find a ditch or lower ground, lie face-down and cover your head with your hands.
Remember, tornado warnings can be issued even if a watch hasn't been, so pay attention to changing weather conditions and take any alerts seriously.
If a tornado has already formed, it can begin to pick up speed, become larger and ultimately, be more destructive. Most of the time, tornadoes form over rural areas, but big tornadoes can stay on the ground for hours and might approach more populated areas. In this case, a tornado emergency tells people in its path that a dangerous storm is heading their way and they need to act without delay.
Always be alert and proactive to keep yourself safe from any type of natural disaster. Watch or read the local news to stay up-to-date on weather conditions and make sure you have an emergency plan in place. Prepare a 72-hour kit and keep a small supply of food storage on hand at all times — you can never be too prepared for a serious situation.
You never know when a tornado, or any disaster, will strike, but if you're prepared, you'll be much better off than if not!