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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

  • Finding a Proper Tornado Shelter During a Twister

    The sky darkens. Winds pick up, and it’s only a matter of time before hail starts falling from the sky. A tornado is coming, something you’re all too familiar with.

    Where do you go? There are three buildings nearby, each within the same distance. Do you hit up the mall? Or what about that well-built home? But there’s also a community shelter nearby. One option is better than the others, but how will you know which to take shelter in?

    FEMA has some recommendations as to what constitutes as best protection, and what really doesn’t do much for you during a tornado. So follow these guidelines and know where to go the next time a tornado threatens your area!


    Minimal/Inadequate Protection

    This trailer park suffered devistation after a tornado.

    While it may be tempting to run to the nearest building, doing so may not be to your advantage. Manufactured homes and offices (i.e. mobile), malls, gymnasiums, vehicles, and the great expanses of the outdoors don’t give you the adequate protection necessary should a tornado roar by. Manufactured buildings blow away easily, as do vehicles. Malls, gymnasiums, and other open-plan buildings are just that – too open. If a tornado did come through those types of buildings, there would be nowhere to take cover should the walls or roof blow away.

    If you find yourself outdoors with no readily available shelter, lay flat in a ditch or low-lying area and protect your head with your arms or other object if available. Avoid areas with trees.


    Moderate Protection

    Home & TornadoSturdy buildings can provide some decent protection, especially if you have a small, interior and windowless room to bunker down in. Even if your building is sturdy, stay away from the upper levels. Find a safe room on the lowest level of the building, as that will give you the most protection.

    While the tornado twists madly about outside, FEMA warns to stay covered. You never know when debris can break through, so cover up with cushions, a sleeping bag, blanket, or anything else you can find. Just remember, these buildings aren’t designed to stand up to the ferocity of tornadoes, so even if you are in a sturdy building, a powerful tornado could still do major damage, so take as many precautions as you can.


    Best Protection

    Tornado ShelterIf you live in a tornado prone area, you might want to consider looking into a safe room or storm shelter. When properly constructed, these safe havens will protect you from nearly all strengths of tornadoes. Having a tornado shelter will greatly increase your odds of safety, and they can be built in your home, business, or even in the community. For more information on building a personal safe room, check out FEMA’s guide by following this link.



    If you live in Tornado Alley, you need to know the best places to take shelter when a tornado is coming. For those not effected by tornadoes frequently, it’s still good to know where you should take shelter. Tornadoes come to every state, so there’s always a possibility of being hit by one (if you haven’t already).


    Where do you go to shelter from tornadoes? Let us know in the comments!


    Disaster_Blog_Banner - Tornado Shelter

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