Tornado Safety- Do's and Dont's
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Tornado Safety- Do's and Dont's

How can I be safe during a tornado What do I do if a tornado is in my area

Well the events of today (22 May 2011) has prompted me to do this article on something that is critical for all persons to be aware of, especially those of us that happen to reside in tornado alley. What prompted this article was a series of tornadoes that sprung up all over the state of Iowa this afternoon. Fortunately at this point there are no reports of any injuries or fatalities. But it reinforced the ideas of safety as it applies to tornadoes.

So what is a tornado exactly? It is a vortex of rapidly rotating air that is most often produced by a thunderstorm. As the wind from these storms encounter anything such as wind, rain, or hills it can start the rotation process in motion. As things begin to rotate, the velocity can build exponentially with the end result being a tornado. Think of the internal workings of a vacuum cleaner. As air is displaced but the force of negative pressure (low pressure), air with higher pressure rapidly moves in to replace it. So now picture the bag or chamber on your vacuum as the storm. As the pressure reduces it begins to move out, other air comes in bringing with it debris such as hair, dirt, last nights spaghetti, or whatever else may be on the floor. As this air moves it creates a self perpetuating cyclic motion leading to continued low pressure. In essence, what is occurring within the tornado and storm is the same principle, just on a much more massive scale. But in the case of tornadoes, the air can be hurling up to velocities of over 300 mph (Miles Per Hour), now throw into the mix the debris these storms kick up with this very high wind. Cars, trucks, animals, houses, planes, trees, and whatever else is in the way. Now picture these things flying at 300 mph and hitting homes along the way, what do you thing the end result is going to be.

Other than the high wind and debris, there are a few other deadly things to keep in mind. Hail from these storms have been documented to be over 3-4 inches in diameter. This is roughly the size of a golf ball, although it has also been confirmed that some hail has been the size of basketballs. Imagine the ouch factor if these things bonk you in the noggin. As you can see, the hail is a significant risk but another even greater risk is the lightning that accompanies these storms. the lightning can be so intense that the light alone can make night seem like day. hundreds of people are struck by lightning during these storms every year, with a number of them being fatalities. So lets take a look at some basic safety do's and don'ts'. We will start off with the do's:

                                                                              DO'S

  • Take shelter- This is an obvious consideration. The point here is to put as much structure between you and the tornado as possible. If you have a basement, this is the best and safest place to be. As the tornado approaches, the house above you will act as a multi layer shield shielding you from the majority of flying debris and hail. these layers are the roof, walls, and flooring above you. Often houses in the Midwest are constructed with a special room in the basement specifically for this purpose. These rooms have re-enforced walls and roofing for your protection. If your home has no basement, then seek shelter in the centermost room of your home. Again the theory being to place as many walls as possible between you and the storm as possible.
  • Stay away from windows- As the winds increase and the debris begins its journey across the landscape, windows are often in the way. Many people are curious about the storm and where it is, but what happens to glass when something hard and fast hits it. Now the human body as remarkable as it is, is no match for glass. This broken glass WILL shred and mangle the human body and is often fatal. Before going into your safe area make sure to close all of your blinds, drapes, and curtains. If the glass does happen to shatter, these things will catch it or at least slow it down.
  • Turn off major electrical items- it is very important to power off your major appliances or unplug them. these items such as computers and washers/dryers are obviously plugged in. But if a blot of lightening were to hit your home, this electricity could (and has) traversed the electrical circuits and wires causing electrical shocks and power surges. It it is not possible to power down or unplug, make sure they are plugged into surge protectors. Even laptops are not safe, unless they are not plugged in at all. Still though, items such as laptops can attract residual static charges and zap you.
  • Do not try to outrun a tornado- If you happen to be on the interstate and the tornado warning is issues for the area you are in, it is ill advised to try to out run it, you will lose. Consider the debris flying, as your car is going 70 mph, the debris can be going greater than 300 mph so game over. It sounds weird, but the safest place to be in this situation is out of your car and get in the ditch as low as possible. Sure you will get soaked from the rain and possibly bruised from hail, but its better than the alternative. Wind always travels in a straight line, so if we are lying in a ditch this wind and debris will mostly go right over us. Of course there is no guarantee, but it is the safest place. the worst place to be in under an overpass. It may seem safe, but think of the wind tunnel idea. you have this wind from the tornado going a couple of hundred mph, channel it through a narrow space and what do you think the end result is. The same idea applies for lightning, it will strike the highest areas, if we are lying in a ditch we are the lowest area, so this greatly minimizes the risk. There is always risk though.
  • If you live in a trailer- If you happen to live in a trailer, GET OUT. These are death traps as far as this sort of bad weather is concerned. These are flimsy structures and very lightweight. As the high winds pick up, these are like aluminum cans in a blender. Almost all trailer parks have some sort of shelter, get to it as quickly as possible. This may sound harsh, but forget Fido or fluffy, get to the shelter.

                                                                             DON'TS'

  • Ignore the warnings- When you live in the Midwest it is easy to get accustomed to the warning sirens. This is a very dangerous mindset to develop. when we ignore the warnings, is when we become victims
  • Don't sightsee- After the fact it is very tempting to go and see the damage for ourselves, but this is a very bad idea that potentially puts your life and the lives of others at risk. This is especially true at night. Power lines are down and live, people may be buried under the debris, you inhibit police, fire, and medical personnel from getting to these victims. so lets look at each: Power lines are a very real dander. Day or night it can be very difficult to spot them and as we drive through the area and our vehicle touches it, we are dead as well. Considering that power lines can carry over 100,000 volts with an amperage of 10 or even higher. Even if we are lucky enough to avoid electrocution, the vehicle could potential knock the wire into some bushes, brush, or even a gas line. Often people are literally sucked out of there homes from the sheer power of the tornado, as they land they can be knocked unconscious and covered by all sorts of debris. As we drive through, we run the risk of running these people over, killing them. As with any disaster, it is critical for emergency services to be able to reach the areas to save as many lives as possible. If we were out sightseeing, this ties up the roads and egresses. So stay home.
  • Don't go outside- It is just as important to not go sightseeing as it is to just stay home indoors. when a person goes outdoors in a tornado storm, they put their life at considerable risk. Is it worth your life to see a funnel cloud and get a few pictures?. Leave that to the professional weather chasers and researchers, as well as emergency services.

Of course this article can not cover all the possible do's and don'ts', but it does serve to make you the reader more aware of the potential dangers and risks associated with tornadoes. The sirens and warnings are there for a reason, to keep you as safe as possible. Tornadoes are very unpredictable and can spring up with little to no warning. It is imperative that you remain aware of the weather at all times whether you are at home, on the road, or at the park. Be aware of potential safety areas such as rest areas on the highways, are there ditches along the road, do you have a fully charged phone, first aid kit, water and food in your car. These are all factors to consider when you live in tornado alley.

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Comments (2)

Timely tips for tornadoes, thanks for the helpful info.

Unfortuneately it is the price we pay for living in the midwest. People that reside in the states of Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Oklahoma, know the risks posed every year by these things. But there is still no way to truely be able to predict them or even build something strong enough to withstand them. I sure wish we could so that we may be able to save more lives.

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