It’s Tornado Season – Are You Prepared?
It’s kind of shocking when you think about it. With just 50 states in the U.S., that averages to 24 tornadoes per state. Of course, we all know that many states rarely witness tornadoes. In fact, Alaska has only witnessed 2 tornadoes in the past 66 years! Hawaii is another state that rarely sees them, experiencing just 39 in the last 66 years. But with these states and others experiencing very few tornadoes, that means that there are others that bear the brunt. The concentration lies in what has come to be known as Tornado Alley, which consists of the following states: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa. Yet, many of the heartland states like Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois, Arkansas, Indiana, Alabama, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia and Kentucky frequently endure Mother Nature’s wrath as well.
The 2011 Tornado Season Toppled the Charts
In 2011, the U.S. experienced an unbelievable number of tornadoes, with a total number of 1897; 1704 of which were rated an EF2 or higher on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. We experienced what is referred to as a Super Outbreak, which was essentially a 3 day nightmare that spawned 289 confirmed tornadoes. In 2011 alone, the United States experienced six extremely devastating tornadoes that were given the highest rating of EF5 . These include the following tornadoes:
- The Joplin, Missouri Tornado, which claimed the lives of 161 people and injured more than 1,000.
- The Hackleburg, Alabama Tornado, which claimed the lives of 72 people and injured at least 145.
- The Philadelphia, Mississippi Tornado, which claimed the lives of three people and injured several others.
- The Smithville, Mississippi Tornado, which claimed the lives of 23 people and injured over 100 others.
- The Rainsville, Alabama Tornado, which claimed the lives of 25 people and injured many more.
- The Piedmont, Oklahoma Tornado, which killed two children and injured several others.
In addition to the devastating tornadoes listed above, there were several other devastating tornadoes, such as the catastrophic tornado that hit Tuscaloosa, AL; claiming the lives of 64 people and injuring more than 1500 others. At the end of 2011, the death toll due to tornadic events stood at 553 and the injuries exceeded 5300 in the U.S. These statistics should remind us that Mother Nature can turn on us in an instant. It can happen anywhere and it can affect anyone.
Are you prepared? Do you and your family know how to react when faced with such a situation?
How Can I Be Prepared for a Tornado?
One of the biggest parts of preparation is education. Don’t fret. Educating yourself and your family on what to do in the event of a tornado does not cost you anything but time and the ability to create a plan. Knowing where to go and what to do in the event of a tornado can save your life and the lives of your family members. Let’s start with the basics and work our way down the list.
Create a Tornado Safety Plan
It might sound like a major task, and it is, but it’s really not as difficult as you might think. Creating a Tornado Safety Plan simply requires that you designate an area or even several areas that you or your family members should run to for shelter in the event of a tornado. Why did I tell you to designate more than one area? Simple. You and your family members are not always going to be at home, nor will you always be together at any given time of the day. The kids may be at school, you may be at work, you may all be at home or one of you could be out running errands. It’s a busy world, so be real with your plan.
- Map out two places in your home that will be the safest spots to be in the event of a tornado. Storm shelters and reinforced basement safe rooms are generally the most ideal, but if you don’t have one in your home, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are doomed. Basements are often the safest spot to be in the event of a tornado simply because the structure above will most often be all that is affected; however, they do not guarantee your safety. Those who live in homes without basements or cellars should be vigilant in finding a safe location to go to in the event that a tornado warning is issued. Whether it is a neighbor’s home or a storm shelter nearby, make a decision, discuss it with your family and stick with it.
- Concentrate on all of the places that your family frequents. This may include school, work, the grocery store, your favorite restaurant, the mall or a friend or family member’s house. If you or one of your family members spends a lot of time outside the home, then you need to be sure that everyone is aware of where they should go in the event a tornado strikes when they are away from home. Knowing this will not only help to keep you and your family members safe, but it may also help to prevent some of the fear and heartache associated with searching for your family members after the storm has passed because you’ll know where to look for your loved ones.
- If you and your family are split up when the storm hits, you’ll need to have a spot that you will all go to meet when the storm is over. In these instances, it is always a good idea to select a place that is unlikely to be heavily damaged, such as a park, a cul de-sac, the town circle or something of that nature that will still have a chance to be fairly recognizable even after a massive tornado has come through.
If you have no time to get to your safe spot, the interior-most room in the lowest part of your home is usually recommended. Many claim to have ridden out tornadoes in their bathtubs, but I wouldn’t recommend this if your bathroom is situated on an exterior wall of your home. The idea behind the bathtub is that it is attached to your plumbing, which is anchored; however, I would venture that more people have lost their lives attempting this than those who have survived. When the roof is ripped off and debris is flying all around you, it is more likely that you will be hit by flying debris and seriously injured or killed.
Advice from the Tornado Experts
I’ve heard time and time again that if you happen to be traveling in your vehicle when a tornado hits, that you should get out of the vehicle and run for cover. Many have stated that the safest place to be on long stretches of highway with no immediate shelter available is a ditch. In this instance, it is suggested that lying flat in a ditch will provide you with the best chances for survival. However, many don’t feel very safe in a ditch and it doesn’t really seem like a safe place to be in the middle of a storm that is throwing debris of all sizes around. You’d be lying there, completely exposed.
I spoke with Wayne Bennett, Owner of Disaster Survival Skills, LLC, who is a retired firefighter, FEMA C.E.R.T instructor and also a certified CPR and First Aid instructor. His other training includes State Certified Fire Officer, California Specialized Training Institute for Earthquake Management, Terrorism Response, Urban Search & Rescue, Avalanche Rescue, High Angle Rope Rescue, Swift Water Rescue, Hazardous Materials and National Fire Academy Incident Command Training.
I asked Captain Bennett what suggestions he had for Tornado prep and safety and he mentioned a few good points that I failed to cover. Here they are:
- If in a mobile home when you hear that a tornado is coming, get out! Attempt to run or drive to a permanent structure and follow your Tornado Disaster Plan.
- If stuck in your car and the tornado is right on top of you, ride it out. Duck and cover with your seat belt on. Protect yourself from glass. There is talk about getting out of the vehicle and taking shelter in low lying areas such as a ditch. I wouldn’t call that shelter, and they have found a lot of large items in ditches following a tornado. Now if you could get into a concrete covered culvert that would be smart. However, it is not suggested to take shelter underneath overpasses or other roadway structures due to the velocity of the wind. When underneath these structures, the ability to be sucked into the storm is too great.
- When in town and looking for shelters, pick banks and hospitals. Avoid gyms, grocery stores and stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, Walmart, K-mart, Sam’s Club and others due to their expansive roofs which are vulnerable to lifting off.
Stay tuned for next Saturday, when I will be reviewing some of the products that Captain Wayne provided me with. These products will be instrumental in the event of nearly any major disaster and may actually make the difference between life and death. And guess what else? You’ll have the chance to win these products, too!
Image credit: Frank Peters
Have some tornado survival tips that you would like to add? Leave us a comment below!