We have become an impressively adept and informed society in the past twenty years, particularly when it comes to severe weather. It is not unusual to run into a person who has a weather app or receives text alerts on their smart phone that will keep them abreast of everything from a shift in humidity to a category five (Cat-5) hurricane. Like so many aspects of our daily life, it is uncommon to find a person who is truly adept at what these warnings, alerts, or notifications, actually mean when the sky turns black outside their window. That is a scary place to be.
Let's just do some housekeeping first off:
1. Anytime a forecast includes the term 'thunderstorms' a tornado can happen. If the temp is above 70° and there is an active thunderstorm, it doesn't take much for it to rotate, and rotating equals BAD.
2. You don't have to be an experienced storm chaser to notice wind speed changes and sudden shifts in wind direction. These things happen in front of a storm and can be very helpful in ascertaining the speed, direction, and ferocity of the incoming storm.
3. Here's the breakdown of alerts:
A. Thunderstorm Watch is just what it says. Conditions are ripe for a thunderstorm to form.
B. Thunderstorm WARNING. This means a thunderstorm is occurring and is headed in your direction. I look at Thunderstorm Warnings the same as a Tornado Watch, especially in GA, TX, MS, AL, TN, and Florida. A Severe Thunderstorm IS capable of producing a tornado in as little as three minutes. Now, consider how long it takes for a text, email, or radar signal, to be received by your phone and be read by you and you'll quickly realize why I treat the two synonymously.
C. Tornado Watch. You will typically get one of these first thing in the morning. Forecasters make note of weather systems in the area, calculate when these forces will combine, factor in the humidity and temperature shifts i (+/- 5° is sometimes all it takes) and put out a 'watch' to let you know to keep an eye out. That is really all it means. It’s a heads up. Typically a 'watch' translates into 50/50 chance of the event happening. On days like this it is imperative that you keep up with changing weather conditions. The more time you have to take shelter, the better chance you have of keeping you and your loved ones safe and sound. You do not want the tornado siren to be your first indicator that something is amiss. By the time you hear it, the storm is there right on top of you.
D. Tornado Warning. This will set off your weather radio and your text alerts. There are two types of 'tornado warnings'. You should listen to what is said in the warning, all the way through. Warnings generally take between 15-30 seconds at full length.
1. A 'DOPPLER INDICATED TORNADO IS IN YOUR AREA' this means a Meteorologist has spotted a radar 'signature' and possibly a 'debris reflection' in the radar screen. Typically you will hear the term "HOOK ECHO". Pay very close attention to WHERE that 'hook' is located. This means that wherever that hook is, there is a 90% chance a tornado is on the ground destroying everything in its path. At that time the Meteorologist will likely issue a TORNADO EMERGENCY for that immediate area. If you are within 5-10 miles of that area, you MUST take shelter IMMEDIATELY, your time has run out and if you do not take cover you WILL be seriously injured or killed.
2. A "LAW ENFORCEMENT OR TRAINED STORM SPOTTER" is exactly what you think, a Police Officer, Ambulance, Fire Personnel, or a trained Storm Spotter is actively watching a tornado on the ground. In this case as well, the announcer will advise you on where the tornado currently is by using cross streets, neighborhood names, and landmarks...anything they can so you can put a perspective on it. Either way, TAKE SHELTER IMMEDIATELY. Again, the Meteorologist will likely issue a TORNADO EMERGENCY, and if you don't act right then, it will not go well for you.
Once a tornado passes, DO NOT just get up and start walking around. Be still and let the noise level lower. Your ears will be ringing loudly and you will be somewhat disoriented. Try to take a breath and collect yourself. Check for bleeding (you may not realize you have been hit by flying debris or may even have broken bones) make sure you are ok before you try to transverse debris. If you are ok:
1. Look around you. Make sure you can safely get up and out without stepping on a power line, jagged wood and or glass, nails, etc. Note where you smell Natural Gas.
2. Formulate a plan to get from where you currently are, to a safe place. The middle of the street is usually a favorable choice. Help will be arriving shortly but in the meantime, recheck yourself. You will be shaking and scared (it doesn't matter how tough you are, you will be) note any injuries, and if you feel confident enough, start helping your neighbors, co-workers, whoever you see. You are human and you are alive, help in any way you can.
If you are NOT ok or you are trapped, try to stay calm as much as can reasonably be expected. Use your voice sparingly. If you have yelled and you don't hear a response or the sounds of people walking, save your breath, you must try to remain calm and screaming will take away a lot of energy. I know it sounds harsh but if you keep your wits about you and conserve your energy, you will have a far better outcome. Listen for the telltale signs of people, then let loose. The survival rate of even the strongest storms America is hit by every year, gets higher and higher. It’s because we learn and pass information to each other! It’s as simple as that.
Until next time, be SAFE and ARRIVE ALIVE!
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