Tornadoes are among the most violent events perpetrated by nature, and many areas of the United States provide the perfect breeding ground for these powerful and destructive storms. A single tornado can cause enough damage to devastate a community completely and bring about dozens of injuries or even fatalities. In the U.S., tornadoes are responsible for an average of 70 deaths and 1,500 injuries per year. The best defense in overcoming these natural disasters is to understand them, be prepared for their arrival, and know what to do when they strike.
A tornado is a quickly rotating mass of air, clouds and rain that takes the shape of a funnel. The top of the funnel begins inside or just below a thunderstorm, and its tail may extend to the ground. When a tornado touches down, its winds can blow as fast as 300 mph, and damage may extend through an area up to one mile wide and 50 miles in length. In many cases, more than one tornado will appear simultaneously, or several will form in close succession.
Many tornadoes are clearly visible, but newly formed tornadoes can be transparent or translucent until they pick up dust and debris. In addition, rain and clouds can obscure them from sight. Tornadoes can form with little to no warning, which means that people nearby must rely on warnings from television, radio, the internet or sirens to alert them that they need to take action quickly.
Tornado Preparedness & Safety
The most effective way to protect yourself, your family and your belongings from the damage of tornadoes is to have a tornado preparedness plan and to understand the alerts. The National Weather Service (NWS) has a two-part system in place to warn people of potential and already-formed tornadoes: watches and warnings. To prepare for a tornado, begin by putting together an emergency supply kit consisting of the following items:
- Fuel for use in a generator and your car (store it at room temperature)
- Three gallons of water per person
- Three-day supply of non-perishable food
- Knife, utensils, and a can opener
- Battery-operated radio and extra batteries
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- First-aid kit, including prescription medications
- List of important telephone numbers (emergency services, family, neighbors and insurance company)
- Personal information, medical information and vehicle information
In addition to an emergency supply kit, you should also develop an emergency plan. Create a map of your home and choose a primary and secondary exit from each room leading to a designated safe area. Indicate where your emergency supplies are, and mark any utility switches or valves that should be turned off. Discuss the emergency plan with your family, and be sure to include information about alerts and sirens.
Establishing a Secure Environment
To maximize safety in your home, you can prepare it for tornadoes and other emergencies by making sure to:
- Keep beds, sofas and chairs away from windows, mirrors and other glass.
- Secure large appliances and tall or top-heavy furniture with straps, metal bands, cables or bolts.
- Install latches or sliding bolts on all cabinet doors.
- Keep important documents, including birth certificates, social security cards, and insurance policies, in a waterproof and fireproof safe.
Note: In addition, it is a good idea to store a list of your household items, photographic evidence of these items, and small valuables in a safe. It is also recommended to create a specific safe zone in your house if space permits. The best place for a safe zone is in the basement, but a windowless room on the ground floor will suffice as long as it has walls that can resist wind and provide protection from flying debris.
For more details, see our post on What to Do during a Tornado Warning or Watch.
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