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Surviving a Tornado

Updated on July 19, 2014
Tornadoes are one of the most destructive weather phenomenon
Tornadoes are one of the most destructive weather phenomenon

Tornado Alley-A Stormy Place

There are many places you don’t want to find yourself in the great outdoors, and in the direct path of a tornado has to top the list. Tornadoes are one of the two most violent types of storms on the planet, the other big one of course being a hurricane. You can decide for yourself which is worse.

Tornadoes are most common in the United States of America where approximately 800 or more touch down every year. Texas leads the way with on average 130 tornadoes each year. Most tornadoes occur in the area known as “Tornado Alley” which extends from South Dakota to Nebraska to Kansas to Oklahoma through Northern Texas and Colorado. The tornado accounts for nearly 80 deaths and 1500 injuries each year. Tornadoes also cause millions of dollars in property damage every year.

Tornadoes are most common during severe thunder storms in June, July, and August
Tornadoes are most common during severe thunder storms in June, July, and August

How a Tornado Forms

A tornado is formed as a change in wind speed and a change in wind direction within a storm system cause air to start rotating very quickly in a horizontal cylindrical manner in the lower atmosphere. As the wind speeds increase, gravity and rising air causes the cylinder of winds to tip vertically into the funnel shape that we picture as the typical tornado. The funnel is invisible until it starts picking up debris or dirt. (A waterspout forms when a tornado is over water. As it sucks up water, the funnel becomes visible). Tornadoes can form anytime, anywhere. They are most common in late afternoon and early evening during tornado season which runs from late spring to early fall. The majority of storms will occur in June, July and August. A tornado usually occurs with or around strong thunder storms. A funnel cloud can be 2 to 6 Miles (3 to 9 kilometres) wide and travel at speeds of 70 or more miles and hour (112 kilometres per hour). The funnel cloud can also change direction without warning. A large tornado will feature wind speeds of over 205 miles per hour (330 kilometres per hour) and last for at least an hour. Smaller tornadoes have wind speeds of 110 miles per hour (177 kilometres per hour) or less and last for only 1 to 10 minutes but can still be very destructive.

A storm capable of producing a tornado has unusual clouds which may be a greenish colour
A storm capable of producing a tornado has unusual clouds which may be a greenish colour

Recognizing a Tornado Storm

Tornadoes can form within a few minutes and change direction with out warning. In many cases this leaves weather services and forecasters less than 15 minutes to warn the public and for citizens to get to safety. There are some signs you can watch for at home which may indicate that a tornado is nearby. These include: strong thunderstorms in particular from 3PM to 9PM, dark storm clouds which may have a greenish color to them, large hail (can be the size of softballs), heavy rain and strong winds which may create the roaring sound a train makes as it passes by, and a wall of clouds on the horizon which appear to extend from the ground up to an even darker line of clouds in the sky.

Tornadoes and the thunderstorms which come with them cause flash flooding, intense lightning, winds in excess of 140 miles per hour (225 kilometres per hour), and hail the size of grapefruits or softballs, all of which can cause severe harm to people and property, along with livestock or crops.

If you see a tornado heading your way, seeking shelter in a room with no windows under a table or desk.  Shelter yourself in an interior door frame if necessary
If you see a tornado heading your way, seeking shelter in a room with no windows under a table or desk. Shelter yourself in an interior door frame if necessary

Surviving The Tornado

If you are indoors and a tornado is in your area, seek shelter in the basement, cellar, or if necessary the ground floor of your house, ideally in a room with no windows or outside doors. Wherever possible, hide under a sturdy piece of furniture to prevent being struck by flying debris and to shelter your body should the building collapse onto you. If you are in a mobile home, try to seek shelter in a permanent building close to your location. The most dangerous place to be is in a car or mobile home. If you have time, turn off propane tanks that may be attached to your home or trailer for heating and cooking. This may help prevent an explosion should the gas line become ruptured. Don’t worry about opening windows. The resulting air pressure changes and flying debris will break them anyway; instead use the time to gather your go bag or better secure yourself in a safe area.

Large roofs such as those on churches or gymnasiums could catch the wind or succumb to the weight of a large amount of rain water and suddenly collapse. Try to avoid such buildings if possible. If you are in an apartment or office building, seek shelter in interior hallways away from windows and ideally on the ground floor. If necessary, hide under a table or desk to prevent debris from falling directly on you.

If you are outside and a tornado is sighted, try to lie down in a low lying area such as a ditch and hold on to what ever you can. Be aware that tornado storms can bring flash flooding so be prepared to move if the area you are lying in fills up with water. Tornadoes are strong enough to throw cars around and drive nails into tree trunks, so stay as close to the ground as possible to avoid being hit by any flying debris.

Destruction from a tornado (like this one in Canada) can be immense, with damage in the millions of dollars each year
Destruction from a tornado (like this one in Canada) can be immense, with damage in the millions of dollars each year

Stay Prepared

Tornadoes are one of the fiercest storms on the planet. If you live in an area which has frequent tornadoes, prepare a “go bag” of essential emergency supplies, personal medications, cash, some canned food and water bottles that you can keep close by so you and your family can leave in a hurry. Often there will be more than one funnel cloud in an area where severe storms are occurring. By being prepared and having a disaster plan ready it is possible to survive even the most deadly of storms.

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    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      We've had some strong winds, and even some tornado warnings in my area, but I've never experienced a real tornado. To be honest, when the winds and rain are at their height, I like sitting at a window and just watching. I'm sure if an actual tornado swept through, sitting at the window would be the last thing I would do!

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