Tornadoes can fling trucks, flatten houses and drive toothpicks into two-by-fours. If a tornado is heading your way, you must take immediate action for your safety. And to help us know when to act, the National Weather Service issues two types of alerts: tornado watches and tornado warnings.
What is a Tornado Watch?
A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for the development of a tornado. Tornado watches have expiration times, which may be extended, and they apply to specific areas that are typically large and span multiple counties.
What to Do During a Tornado Watch
If a tornado watch is issued for your area, you should stay tuned to a reliable source of weather information until the watch expires. This can be in the form of mobile phone alerts, local television, local radio or news websites, but keep in mind that severe weather can knock out electric and cable lines and may even disrupt mobile phone service. A battery-operated radio is a good, reliable source to have on hand.
You should also keep an eye on the skies. As tornado-friendly conditions develop, you may see the skies turn a green or orange color, and you may see dense, low-lying clouds. Hail is also common under these conditions, so you may want to move your car to a covered area as a precaution.
Think about where you’ll go and what you’ll do if a tornado warning is issued. If you’re in a house, you’ll want to identify the safest shelter, usually the basement or an interior room on the lowest level. In a large public or commercial building, be prepared to move to the ground floor and expect to be directed in accordance with the facility’s disaster plan. If you’re outdoors or driving, it’s best to move to a sturdy structure while you wait for conditions to improve.
What is a Tornado Warning?
A tornado warning means that a tornado is either occurring or imminent, which may be determined by either storm spotters or radar instruments. Like tornado warnings, they also expire and are limited to certain areas, but they tend to be shorter in duration and cover a smaller area.
What to Do During a Tornado Warning
Take shelter immediately. Move to the lowest floor possible or to a designated storm shelter. Stay away from windows and grab a blanket to help protect you from potential flying debris, if possible. Bring along a radio or smartphone if available so you can continue to monitor storm warnings.
If you’re outdoors or in a vehicle and are near a suitable shelter, move to the shelter immediately. If you can’t get to a sturdy shelter, find a low-lying area like a ditch and lay face-down with your hands covering your head. Don’t try to take shelter under a bridge or overpass, which won’t significantly reduce your risk of being hit with debris.
Wait for the tornado warning to expire before leaving the safety of your shelter. If you’re in a structure that has been damaged by a tornado, use extreme caution when attempting to exit. Damaged structures can collapse without warning. If you’re trapped in a basement and aren’t in imminent danger, it’s safer to shout, phone or signal for help than it is to try to move debris on your own.
Stay Alert, Prepare to Act
Thanks to ever-improving technology and tools used by meteorologists, the accuracy and lead time of tornado warnings has never been better. But those warnings can only save lives if people know what to do and take prompt action. Sign up for weather alerts on your mobile phone and keep tabs on local broadcasts so you’ll always know when to seek shelter.