Tornado Safety Information

Monday, May 12th 2008, 10:22 am
By: News On 6

Following safety precautions during a tornado can increase your and your family's chances of survival.

  • The best shelter from a tornado is a basement or storm cellar. If neither one is available, go to an inside room without windows on the lowest level of the building.
  • Cover yourself with something such as pillows, a mattress, or blankets.
  • Place as many walls between you and the outside as possible.
  • Mobile homes are extremely unsafe during a tornado. Seek shelter elsewhere, if possible.
  • Avoid windows. Despite popular belief, opening windows to equalize pressure has no effect in reducing damage during a tornado.
  • Be aware of the counties, cities and towns that are near you. It will be easier to track the tornado's direction if you are familiar with the geography of your area.
  • If you are in a vehicle, get out immediately and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building or a storm shelter. If there is not a building nearby, lie flat in a ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands.
  • DO NOT get under an underpass or bridge. It is not safe since it can leave you exposed to flying debris.
Emergency Phone Numbers
Red Cross Tulsa Information
Red Cross National
1-800-HELP NOW
Red Cross Spanish Help
Ottawa County Red Cross (Miami, OK)

When tornadoes strike, proper shelter can make the difference between life and death. Because of this, many organizations make it their goal to protect those who find themselves in the path of severe weather. The FEMA offers an abundance of information for those interested in constructing safe rooms for individuals, families, or communities. The National Storm Shelter Association has a complete listing of all storm shelters available.

Listen to weather radio broadcasts online at NOAA Weather Radio.

Ham Radio

American Radio Relay League.
Amateur Radio Disaster Service.
Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES).

Tornado Signs

Occasionally, tornadoes develop so rapidly that advance warning is not possible. Because of this, it is important to know and be able to spot possible signs of an approaching tornado:

  1. A large, dark, low-lying cloud or wall cloud
  2. Strong, persistent rotation in the cloud base
  3. Whirling dust or debris on the ground under a cloud base
  4. Hail or heavy rain followed by either dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift
  5. Loud, continuous roar or rumble much like a freight train
  6. Dark, often greenish sky

Watches & Warnings: Tornado Terms

Tornado Watch: A tornado watch indicates the development of a tornado is possible in your area.
Tornado Warning: A tornado warning indicates that a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar.
Severe Thunderstorm Watch: A severe thunderstorm watch means a severe thunderstorm is possible.
Severe Thunderstorm Warning: A severe thunderstorm warning means a severe thunderstorm is occurring.

For more information on warnings and current weather conditions in Northeast Oklahoma visit the National Weather Service Forecast Office or click here for a list of watches, warnings and advisories in effect for all of Oklahoma.

Polygon Weather Warnings

The National Weather Service issues four different types of short-term warnings: tornado, severe thunderstorm, flash flood, and special marine warnings. These warnings indicate severe weather is expected within the next few hours. Warnings are issued for an entire county or cluster of counties; therefore, when any one part of the county is threatened, the entire county essentially receives the warning.

County size and shape can improve or worsen statistics. It is much more likely to verify a warning within a very large county rather than a small county.

Since 1998, the NWS forecast offices have used a new computer system, the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS), along with new warning software, WARNGEN, to produce short-term warnings. The WARNGEN software allows meteorologists to draw a polygon to outline the geographic area threatened. The software is then used to build a template of the warning that can be used to transmit the warning. WARNGEN adds the latitude-longitude coordinates of the polygon to the end of the warning text. So, meteorologists have the opportunity with WARNGEN to outline a polygon showing the area of severe weather. Although NWS meteorologists do have the capability to issue polygons with their short-term warnings, there is a noticeable tendency for forecasters to crop the polygon to existing county boundaries. This is likely due to concern about the effect of accidentally warning for more than one county at a time. The WARNGEN software has a tool that allows the warning polygon to fit within one or more county outlines. This tends to create polygons with many vertices, matching the irregular shape of counties.

A new verification mechanism will be required for this new system. This would verify warnings based on weather occurring within the polygon rather than within county boundaries. One advantage of changing to a polygon verification system is that results could be delivered almost immediately using automated GIS techniques. Another impacted area is dissemination. In the future, the NOAA Weather Radio system could be modified to allow targeted areas by polygon rather than counties. This could lead to much reduced warned areas and therefore provide better service.

Make A Disaster Kit

When preparing for a tornado, or any natural disaster, you should have a disaster supply kit. Your kit should include the following items:

  • First aid kit and essential medications.
  • Canned food and can opener.
  • At least three gallons of water per person.
  • Protective clothing, rainwear and bedding or sleeping bags.
  • Battery-powered radio, flashlight and extra batteries.
  • Special items for infants, elderly or disabled family members.
  • Written instructions for how to turn off electricity, gas and water if authorities advise you to do so.

Weather Radios

Here are the features to look for:

1. The radio should be battery-operated.
2. The radio should be NOAA-approved.
3. Is the radio one that you, not the salesman, can easily program to suit your needs?
4. Is the radio alarm loud enough to wake you?