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  • Tornado Warning vs. Watch: Knowing the Difference Could Save Your Life

    When the sky goes dark and the winds pick up, should you be worried about a tornado? Depending on where you live, maybe you should be. But not every thunderstorm produces tornadoes. So how are you supposed to know when it’s time to find shelter as opposed to sitting down with a blanket and hot coco?

    One of the best ways is to follow your local weather forecast for alerts. There are two in particular that are important to know regarding tornadoes: Watch and Warning.

     

    Tornado Watch

    Tornado warning and WatchWhen your local weather team issues a tornado watch, it means that conditions for a tornado are favorable. Much like bird watching, people are searching the skies for a glimpse of a tornado. So far, however, nobody has spotted one.

    But just because it hasn’t been spotted yet doesn’t mean it won’t ever form. When a tornado watch is issued for your area, use that time to inspect your emergency supplies, review your emergency plans, and make sure you have a safe room you can get to in a moment’s notice.

    Tornado watches can cover a large area, so don’t be surprised if a tornado does come, just not to your neighborhood (or, on the other hand, it does come for a visit).

     

    Tornado Warning

    Beautifully structured supercell thunderstorm in American Plains Tornado warning

    Danger! If you receive a tornado warning, it means a storm is quickly on approach. But it’s not just any storm. This one indicates there is a strong rotation as picked up by Doppler Radar. That, or there has been a confirmed sighting of a tornado.

    This is the time to take shelter immediately. Get to your safe room or otherwise shelter in a safe place. Life and property are considered at imminent risk during a tornado warning, so there is no time to delay in retreating to safety. Steer clear of windows and outside walls. Move inward and to the lowest level of the building as possible. Do not use an elevator – use stairs.

    Unlike tornado watches, warnings cover a much smaller locale, so if you are within the area specified, you definitely need to take action.

     

    Being aware of the weather around you is one of the many ways of staying safe. Since you may not always have power during these storms, it’s smart to have an emergency weather radio on hand so you can keep tabs on what’s going on outside, and if there are any tornado watches or warnings in effect.

    When storms pick up, stay alert and aware of the weather going on outside – especially if you live in a tornado-prone area. Knowing what the difference is between a tornado watch and a tornado warning can make all the difference when it comes to weathering the storms around you.

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner Tornado warning

  • Be Prepared for Anything this Tornado Season

    Supercell over the Great Plains tornado season Supercell over the Great Plains

    My family used to live on the western side of Tornado Alley. My husband worked as a sheriff’s deputy. When a supercell – the storm system that produces tornadoes – developed, he had to follow it. First, he needed to make sure a tornado wasn’t developing or heading toward a population center. Second, he needed to close roads to keep amateur tornado chasers away from a tornado’s path. With good reason. Our family once followed a wall cloud during a tornado warning and it seemed like half the town was on the road with us.

    On April 21, NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center used the phrase “Severe weather outbreak possible” to describe an April 26 forecast for potential major storms in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Six days in advance they forecast a moderate risk of severe storms and tornadoes. This was the earliest in advance the center had ever used that phrase, according to SPC representative Keli Pirtle, in a story by the Associated Press.

    That’s useful for emergency managers but might be counterproductive for others. In a study published in 2011, researchers found a longer warning time before a tornado would make more than 44 percent of respondents feel that the situation was less life threatening.

    Also, four times more people said they would try to flee, which could be dangerous. On May 31, 2013, according to the AP story, the widest tornado recorded killed eight people west of Oklahoma City. A National Weather Service assessment said all eight were in their vehicles.

    "Everyone had always thought that increasing lead time was good," Kim Klockow, a visiting scientist at NOAA headquarters told the AP. "People just don't like to be sitting ducks."

    So, why provide a forecast with such a long lead time? One meteorologist told the AP he wanted people to take the time to prepare.

    "Can they go out and buy a weather radio this weekend? Can you vacuum the spider webs out of your storm shelter?" asked Rick Smith, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Norman. "It's April. We're in Oklahoma and Texas. We need to be doing this anyway."

    Here are some ways to prepare for tornado season.

    Home & Tornado seasonFirst, have a plan and a place to go. That place can be in a home, in a personal storm shelter or in a public storm shelter. Seventy percent of respondents to the 2011 study said they had a tornado action plan. However, only 53 percent said they had a place to take shelter.

    Second, get a battery-powered or hand-cranked weather radio.

    Third, prepare a grab-and-go bag and personalize it. After the Japanese earthquake on April 18, 2016, Reuters reported shortages at shelters.

    "There's no milk and only the diapers we brought with us. Once they run out, there's nothing." one woman with a two-month-old told TV Asahi, according to the Reuters story.

    Fourth, keep copies of vital information stored offsite or easy to grab. When an apartment building burned in Brooklyn, N.Y., on March 30, the Red Cross offered preloaded debit cards to victims, according to the New York Times. However, to get the cards, the building’s residents had to have identification. One woman who ran out of her apartment without her ID fortunately remembered her employer had a copy. Not everyone was as lucky.

    Vital information can also include birth certificates, medical records and insurance information.

    Fifth, be prepared for more than just tornadoes. During the May 2013 tornado, according to the NWS repot, one woman said she and seven other people were sheltering in a cellar when it began filling with water from a flash flood.

    “We stayed in there until the water got too high,” she said. “We just hoped the tornado was over by that point.”

    Sixth, be cautious. After you’ve been through several tornado warnings, it’s easy to be blasé.

    Tornado's Coming! Tornado season

     

    Please don’t try what that above meme suggests. And if you must chase a tornado, obey law enforcement and stay out of its path. Four of the people killed during the May 31, 2013 Oklahoma tornado were storm chasers, three of whom were experienced professionals.

     

    How are you preparing for tornado season? Let us know in the comments!

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner tornado season

  • Why You Should Drop Cover and Hold On During an Earthquake

    Within 50 years from now, scientists predict a large earthquake to strike Utah.

    Wasatch Fault Sign - Drop cover and hold onWith a 43% chance of a magnitude 6.75 or higher within that time frame, those in Utah really don’t have that much longer to prepare, all things considered. That’s why ShakeOuts are held every year, to help prepare the people to be as safe as possible during an earthquake.

    Utah is the only state to hold a ShakeOut in April (the other states hold theirs in October), and on April 21, 2016, another of these state-wide earthquake drills was conducted.

    Thousands of students, businesses, and homeowners – nearly a million in total – went through the motions of dropping, covering, and holding on – the suggested procedure to avoiding injury during a quake. Here’s why we drop, cover, and hold on during an earthquake.

     

    Drop

    DROP Cover and Hold OnYou never know how strong an earthquake is going to be. Even the first small jolt could be just the beginning of “the big one,” in which case you most certainly do not want to be on your feet. When the earth starts swaying, you can be knocked down quite easily. This is, of course, dangerous. Don’t wait to see if it’s “the big one” or not. Get down on the ground as quickly and safely as you can as soon as you feel the quake.

    Do your best to avoid exterior walls, windows, mirrors, and areas where heavy objects could fall on you. If you’re in bed, hold on and stay where you are. If you are outdoors, move to an open, clear area if you are able to safely do so. Steer clear of trees, power lines, and other hazards.

     

    Cover

    Drop COVER and Hold onOnce you’ve dropped safely to the ground, the next step is to protect yourself from falling objects. The best thing you can do is hide under a table or desk, but make sure your cover is sturdy. It won’t do much good if your table will just collapse on top of you.

    If you don’t have access to a desk, table, or similar shelter, then use your arms to cover your head and neck. Those two areas can be the most dangerous if struck by falling objects. Contrary to popular belief, standing in a doorway is not recommended. In modern homes, doorways are just as stable (or weak) as the rest of the home. There is also always a danger of flying objects caused by the earthquake, and by standing in a doorway you are opening yourself up to that danger. So stay down, and stay covered!

     

    Hold On

    Drop cover and HOLD ONEarthquake do just what their name implies – they shake the earth violently. If you’re not holding on to something during this shaking, you could be jolted around, thereby causing you more harm and injury. If you’re under a table or desk, grab hold of the legs or brace yourself against your cubicle walls (if you’re in an office).

    Once the earthquake stops, don’t run. Violent aftershocks could knock you off your feet. Once outside, again, stay away from power lines, trees, buildings, signs, and other potential hazards should another tremor come and knock things over.

     

    Being safe in an earthquake means starting now to prepare. Fasten down any objects that could fly off the walls or shelves. Anchor book cases to the wall. Find potential dangers in your home and take care of them. If you have a mantle over your bed, don’t keep any heavy objects on it, as they could fall on you during an earthquake.

    Likewise, prepare now with emergency food, water, gear, and other supplies. If an earthquake is strong enough, you could be left without those basic necessities, so at least have a 72 hour kit will keep you going until more help can arrive.

    Take the time today to prepare for an earthquake. They come without warning, and once they do, it’s too late to prepare.

    Just remember to drop cover and hold on!

     

    Earthquake Banner - Call to Action - Drop cover and hold on

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