Tornado and Severe Weather Safety
Tornado season is here again. So now is a good time to review tornado safety procedures for home, school, and work.
Each year about a thousand tornadoes touch down in the US. Only a small percentage actually strike occupied buildings, but every year a number of people are killed or injured. A tornado is a violent whirlwind – a rotating funnel of air that extends from a cloud to the ground. Tornadoes can travel for many miles at speeds of 250 miles per hour or more. These storms change direction without warning, randomly destroying homes and power lines, uprooting trees, and even hurling large objects – such as automobiles – over long distances.
The chances that a tornado will strike a building that you are in are very small, however, and you can greatly reduce the chance of injury by doing a few simple things.
The chances that a tornado will strike a building that you are in are very small. However, you can greatly reduce the chance of injury by doing a few simple things. First, be ALERT to the onset of severe weather. Most deaths and injuries happen to people who are unaware and uninformed. Young children or the mentally challenged may not recognize a dangerous situation. The ill, elderly, or invalid may not be able to reach shelter in time. Those who ignore the weather because of indifference or overconfidence may not perceive the danger. Stay aware, and you will stay alive!
If you don’t regularly watch or listen to the weather report, but strange clouds start moving in and the weather begins to look stormy, turn to the local radio or television station to get the latest emergency information and weather forecast. Listen for announcements of a tornado watch or tornado warning.
If a Tornado WATCH is issued for your area, it means that conditions are right for a tornado.
If a Tornado WARNING is issued, it means that a tornado has actually been spotted, or is strongly indicated on radar, and it is time to go to a safe shelter immediately.
THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT WEATHER WARNINGS AND SIRENS IN OBERLIN
How many outdoor warning sirens are located in Oberlin? The City of Oberlin Fire Department uses five weather warning sirens located within the City to initiate a warning to residents. These sirens are located at: West Hamilton Street, Pyle Road, Artino Street, Kendal Drive, and South Main Street.
How are these sirens tested? The siren system is TESTED every month on the 2nd WEDNESDAY at 11:00 AM between MARCH and AUGUST. Siren tests are NOT conducted during inclement weather to avoid confusion.
When will these sirens be activated? Sirens will be activated when a Tornado WARNING is issued for the Oberlin area, or if an actual tornado or funnel cloud is sighted by a trained spotter near the Oberlin area.
What does the siren signal sound like? The standard siren signal consists of analternating (10 seconds ‘on’ followed by 10 seconds “off” siren tone, repeated forfour minutes. This signal is immediately followed by an activation of the EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM (EAS) on all Oberlin Cable Co–op TV channels. The EAS is used to alert all listening residents and/or to provide additional information on the sightings.
Will the siren system be used for any other emergencies? No. The emergency siren system is only used for alerting the public to impending danger associated with severe storms and tornado warnings.
Will the system be used to sound an ‘All Clear’ after the storm? Since all Tornado WARNINGS are issued by the National Weather Service, the fire department does notissue an all-clear signal. Residents are encouraged to monitor either radio or TV services for the expiration of any weather advisory that may affect our area.
REMEMBER – SIRENS ARE DESIGNED TO WARN PEOPLE WHO ARE OUTDOORS AND MAY NOT BE AUDIBLE INDOORS. If the weather forecasts indicate the possibility of severe weather, be alert to what is happening outside as well. Here are some of the things that people describe when they tell about a tornado experience:
- A dark or green–colored sky.
- A large, dark, low-lying cloud.
- Large hail.
- A strange quiet that occurs within or shortly after the thunderstorm.
- Clouds moving by very fast, especially in a rotating pattern or converging toward one area of the sky.
- A sound a little like a waterfall or rushing air at first, but turning into a roar as it comes closer. The sound of a tornado has been compared to that of railroad trains or jets.
- Debris dropping from the sky.
- An obvious “funnel-shaped” cloud that is rotating, or debris such as branches or leaves being pulled upwards, even if no funnel cloud is visible.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF A WARNING IS ISSUED?
If you see a tornado or funnel cloud nearby, take shelter immediately. If you spot a tornado that is far away, help alert others to the hazard by reporting it to the emergency services before taking shelter. Use common sense and exercise caution.
The key to surviving a tornado and reducing the risk of injury lies in planning, preparing, and practicing what you and your family will do if a tornado strikes. Flying debris causes most deaths and injuries during a tornado. It is important to make decisions about the safest places well BEFORE you ever have to go to them.
IN HOMES OR OTHER SMALL BUILDINGS:
Pick a place in the home where family members can gather if a tornado is headed your way. One basic rule is AVOID WINDOWS. An exploding window can injure or kill.
The safest place In the home is the interior part of a basement. If there is not basement, go to an inside room, without windows, on the lowest floor. This could be a center hallway, bathroom, or closet.
For added protection, get under something sturdy such as a heavy table or workbench. If possible, cover your body with a blanket, sleeping bag, or mattress, and protect your head with anything available – even your hands. Avoid taking shelter where there are heavy objects such as pianos or refrigerators, on the area of floor that is directly above you. They could fall through the floor if the tornado strikes your house.
IN A MOBILE HOME:
DO NOT STAY IN A MOBILE HOME DURING A TORNADO. Mobile homes can turn over during strong winds. Even mobile homes with a tie-down system cannot withstand the force of tornado winds. Plan ahead. If you live in a mobile home, go to a nearby building, preferably one with a basement. If there is no shelter nearby, lie flat in the nearest ditch, ravine, or culvert and shield your head with your hands.
Leave auditoriums, gyms, and other free-span rooms, exiting in an orderly fashion. Go to interior rooms or hallways on the lowest floor, but avoid halls that open to the outside in any direction. If there are no interior hallways, avoid those that open to the southwest, south, or west, since that is the usually the direction the tornado will come. Stay away from glass, both in windows and doors. Crouch down, and make as small a “target” as possible. If you have something to cover your head, do so, otherwise, use your hands. Don’t assume that there will always be a teacher or other adult there to tell you what to do–if there is, you should follow their direction, but you need to know these things too. Peak time for tornadoes to strike varies from region to region. In some southeastern states, early morning tornadoes are almost as common as late afternoon ones. In western and northern states, peak hours are from 3 to 7 PM, just at the end of the school, but including the hours of afterschool activities.
TO AND FROM SCHOOL, WORK, OR AFTERSCHOOL ACTIVITIES:
If really severe weather is expected, your school may be dismissed early in order that you can reach home before the worst of the weather reaches the area. If you are on foot or riding a bike, it is doubly important that you go home immediately, and not linger with your friends. If caught in the open, you should seek a safe place immediately. The chances of encountering falling trees, power lines, and lightning is greater than encountering the tornado itself. The basement of a sturdy building would be best, but lying flat in a ditch or low-lying area may be the only thing available. A culvert in a ditch MAY be a good choice if there is no rain, but if there IS rain, flash flooding may be more dangerous and likely than the tornado.
ON THE ROAD
The least desirable place to be during a tornado is in a motor vehicle. Cars, buses, and trucks are easily tossed by tornado winds. Do not try to outrun a tornado in your car. If you see a tornado, stop your vehicle and get out. Do not get under your vehicle. An underpass may seem like a safe place, but may not be. While videos show people surviving under an underpass, those tornadoes have been weak. No one knows how survivable an underpass is in a strong or violent tornado. The debris flying under the underpass could be very deadly… head for a ditch.
IN HIGH-RISE BUILDINGS:
Interior rooms and halls are the best locations in large buildings. Central stairwells are good, but elevators are not. If the building loses power, you may be in the elevator for a long time. Stay away from glass walls and windows, no matter how small.
IN SHOPPING CENTERS, HOSPITALS, AND FACTORIES:
Go to interior rooms and halls on the lowest floor. Stay away from glass enclosed places or areas with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums, theaters, and warehouses. Crouch down and cover your head. Deaths have occurred in large, single story department stores. They have occurred inside the building when the roof or wide span brick walls, which collapsed. A corner would be safer than the middle of the wall. A bathroom, closet, office, or maintenance room with short walls would be the safest area, especially if it was on the north or east side of the building.
Is it likely that a tornado will strike your home or school? No. But being ready for the possibility will keep you safer! Deaths and injuries from tornadoes have dropped dramatically in the past 50 years. Casualties numbers are holding steady as scientists learn more about tornadoes and develop the technologies that detect them sooner. Forecasters must continue to improve techniques because the population is increasing. The National Weather Service, and television and radio weather people have taken full advantage of the advancements in tornado prediction to improve warnings. In addition, many people generously donate their time and expertise to help protect their neighbors and communities in another way–by tornado and severe storm “spotting.” “Spotters” combine an interest in the weather, a willingness to serve and often, ham radio experience to make tornado prone areas safer for all. Spotting can provide a focus to a person’s interest in the weather, and ham radio helps you meet other like-minded people. It is not often that something that starts out as a hobby can potentially do so much good.
Wherever it is, the shelter should be well known by each member of the family. If you and your family will conduct annual emergency drills (fire, tornado, etc), everyone will remember what to do and where to go when a tornado is approaching–automatically and without panic. Choose a friend or family member in another part of town or elsewhere to be a “contact person” that will be called by everyone should the family members become separated.
It is suggested that you assemble a “disaster supplies kit” that you keep in your shelter area. It should contain:
- A first aid kit with essential medication in addition to the usual items.
- A battery powered radio, flashlight, and extra batteries.
- Canned and other non-perishable food and a hand operated can opener.
- Bottled water.
- Candles and matches.
- Sturdy shoes and work gloves.
- Written instructions on how to turn off your homes utilities.