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Severe weather preparation is your responsibility

Courtesy of 6th Air Mobility Wing safety

Each year, many people are killed or seriously injured by tornadoes and severe thunderstorms despite advance warning. Some did not hear the warning, while others heard the warning but did not believe it would happen to them. The following preparedness information, combined with timely severe weather watches and warnings, could save your life.

Once you receive a warning or observe threatening skies, you must make the decision to seek shelter before the storm arrives. It could be the most important decision you will ever make.

Thunderstorms affect relatively small areas when compared with hurricanes and winter storms. Despite their small size, all thunderstorms are dangerous. The typical thunderstorm is 15 miles in diameter and lasts an average of 30 minutes. Of the estimated 100,000 thunderstorms that occur each year in the United States, about 10 percent are classified as severe.

Although tornadoes occur in many parts of the world, they are found most frequently in the United States. In an average year, 1,200 tornadoes cause 70 fatalities and 1,500 injuries nationwide. Tornadoes are a violently rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground.

They may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms within the funnel. The average tornado moves from southwest to northeast, but tornadoes have been known to move in any direction. The average forward speed is 30 mph but may vary from nearly stationary to 70 mph. The strongest tornadoes have rotating winds of more than 250 mph. Tornadoes can accompany tropical storms and hurricanes as they move onto land.

Waterspouts are tornadoes which form over warm water. They can move onshore and cause damage to coastal areas. Tornadoes can occur at any time of the year and have occurred in every state, but they are most frequent east of the Rocky Mountains during the spring and summer months. In northern and southern states, peak tornado occurrence is during the spring and summer months. Tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3 to 9 p.m. but can happen at any time.

A couple of tornado safety rules to keep in mind:

  • In a home or building, move to a pre-designated shelter, such as a basement.
  • If an underground shelter is not available, move to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor and get under a sturdy piece of furniture. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside.
  • Stay away from windows
  • Get out of automobiles
  • Do not try to outrun a tornado in your car; instead, leave it immediately for safe shelter
  • If caught outside or in a vehicle, lie flat in a ditch or depression, away from your vehicle and cover your head with your hands
  • Be aware of flying debris, flying debris from tornadoes cause the most fatalities and injuries.

Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes. You should leave a mobile home and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy nearby building or a storm shelter.

Occasionally, tornadoes develop so rapidly that advance warning is not possible. Remain alert for signs of an approaching tornado such as a dark, often greenish sky, large hail or a loud roar similar to a freight train.

Did you know that lightning causes an average of 80 fatalities and 300 injuries each year? Lightning occurs in all thunderstorms and each year lightning strikes the earth 20 million times. The energy from one lightning flash could light a 100-watt light bulb for more than 3 months. Most lightning fatalities and injuries occur when people are caught outdoors in the summer months during the afternoon and evening.

Lightning can occur from cloud-to-cloud, within a cloud, cloud-to-ground or cloud-to-air. Many fires in the Western United States and Alaska are started by lightning. The air near a lightning strike is heated to 50,000 F, hotter than the sun!

How far away is the Thunderstorm? Count the number of seconds between a flash of lightning and the next clap of thunder. Divide this number by five to determine the distance to the lightning in miles.

The best way to avoid being caught in a dangerous situation is to postpone outdoor activities if thunderstorms are imminent. If you are caught outside, move to a sturdy building or car. Do not take shelter in small sheds, under isolated trees or in convertible automobiles. Stay away from tall objects such as towers, fences, telephone poles, and power lines. If lightning is occurring and a sturdy shelter is not available, get inside a hard top automobile and keep the windows up. Avoid touching any metal, utility lines and metal pipes that can conduct electricity. Unplug appliances not necessary for obtaining weather information. Avoid using the telephone or any electrical appliances.

Use phones only in an emergency. Do not take a bath or shower or go swimming during a thunderstorm.

If you are caught outdoors and no shelter is nearby, find a low spot away from trees, fences and poles. Make sure the place you pick is not subject to flooding. If you are in the woods, take shelter under the shorter trees. If you feel your skin tingle or your hair stand on end, squat low to the ground on the balls of your feet. Place your hands over your ears and your head between your knees. Make yourself the smallest target possible and minimize your contact with the ground. Don't lie down. If you are boating or swimming, get to land and find shelter immediately. Remember, if you can hear thunder - you are close enough to be struck by lightning.

What you can do before severe weather strikes:

  • Develop a plan for you and your family at home, work, school and outdoors. The American Red Cross offers planning tips on their Internet site: www.redcross.org/disaster/safety/.
  • Identify a safe place to take shelter. Information on how to build a safe room in your home or school is available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency at www.fema.gov/mil.
  • Have frequent drills.
  • Know the county/parish in which you live or visit. The National Weather Service issues severe weather warnings on a county or parish basis.
  • Keep a highway map nearby to follow storm movement from weather bulletins.
  • Have a NOAA weather radio with a warning alarm tone and battery back-up to receive warnings.
  • National Weather Service watches and warnings are also available on the Internet. Select your local National Weather Service office at www.wrh.noaa.gov/wrhq/nwspage.html or go to the National Weather Service Home Page at www.nws.noaa.gov.
  • Listen to radio and television for weather information.
  • Check the weather forecast before leaving for extended periods outdoors. Watch for signs of approaching storms.
  • If severe weather threatens, check on people who are elderly, very young, or physically or mentally disabled.

Follow these guidelines and use common sense to keep yourself out of danger.




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