Written by Lesly C. Hallman , Staff Writer,

Thursday, March 03, 2005 — Even though much of the United States is still in the grip of wintry weather, spring is around the corner. Along with warmer weather comes stormy weather, and as those who live in the midsection of the country know best, spring heralds the beginning of tornado season. The peak time of year for tornados is March through May, and the American Red Cross has several suggestions to keep you and your family as safe as possible when a tornado strikes.

A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from the base of a strong thunderstorm cloud to the ground. The most violent tornadoes can reach wind speeds of 250 mph or more. In some extreme cases damage paths can span more than one mile wide and 50 miles long.Tornado Alley, an area covering the southern and central plains region from Texas to Nebraska, experiences the majority of tornado strikes each year. However, it’s a myth that other areas of the country are immune to these often devastating storms. While the majority of tornadoes occur in the Midwest, a twister can strike almost anywhere and at any time.

On average the U.S. sees about 1,000 tornadoes every year, more than any other country in the world. In 2004 more than 1,500 tornadoes touched down, killing 36 people across the country.

The majority of tornadoes are considered strong, with winds between 110 and 205 mph. Tornado strength is measured by the Fujita scale, which ranges from F0—moderate, with winds up to 72 mph, to F5—incredible, with winds up to 318 mph.

Experts agree the time to prepare a tornado safety plan is before you need it. “The Red Cross understands the importance of planning, and our goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to deal with emergencies, whenever or wherever they take place,” said Red Cross spokesperson Pat McCrummen. “One way to do that is simply to plan ahead by making a disaster kit.”

Follow these tips to ensure that your family will be as ready as possible when a tornado strikes:

Prepare a Home Tornado Plan
Pick a place where your family can gather if a tornado is headed your way. It can be a basement or a center hallway, bathroom, or closet on the lowest floor. Keep this place uncluttered. If you are in a high-rise building, you may not have enough time to get to the lowest floor, so pick a place in a hallway in the center of the building.

Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit 
Include a first aid kit and any essential medications along with items for infants, the elderly or disabled. You also need canned food, a can opener, and at least three gallons of water per person. Include protective clothing, bedding, or sleeping bags, a battery-powered radio, flashlight and extra batteries, and written instructions on how to turn off electricity, gas, and water if authorities advise you to do so. (Remember, you'll need a professional to turn natural gas service back on.)

Stay Tuned for Storm Warnings
Listen to your local radio and TV stations for updated storm information and know the difference between a tornado WATCH and a tornado WARNING:

  • A tornado WATCH means a tornado is possible in your area.
  • A tornado WARNING means a tornado has been sighted and may be headed for your area. Go to safety immediately.

Tornado WATCHES and WARNINGS are issued by county or parish.

When a Tornado WATCH Is Issued...
Listen to local radio and TV stations for further updates and pay attention to changing weather conditions. You may see blowing debris or the hear sound of an approaching tornado. Many people say it sounds like a freight train.

When a Tornado WARNING Is Issued... 
If you are inside, go to the safe place you picked to protect yourself from glass and other flying objects. If you are outside, hurry to the basement of a nearby sturdy building or lie flat in a ditch or low-lying area. If you are in a car or mobile home, get out immediately and head for safety.

After the Tornado Passes... 
Watch out for fallen power lines and stay out of damaged areas, listen to the radio for information and instructions, use a flashlight to inspect your home for damage and do not use candles at any time.

For more details on preparing, visit our Tornado Safety page.

Obtained from: American Red Cross

How To Prepare for a Tornado on
Tornado Information from American Red Cross
WikiHow - Prepare for a Tornado
NSSL Tornado Guide

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