— Submitted by Bob Hopkins | WFD Division Chief/Fire Marshal
Now in mid-March, the thought of spring comes quickly to mind but with spring in North Texas comes the threat of severe weather.
It is the purpose of the Weatherford Fire Department to help inform our citizens about how to prepare for spring weather and the threat of tornadoes. An informed public is a well prepared public.
North Texans last May saw how dangerous and deadly tornadoes can be.
Although there is no guarantee on how to survive a tornado, there are three important things to remember: Be aware. Stay informed. Take shelter.
More than 1,000 tornadoes occur in the U.S. annually. Texas reports, on average, approximately 132 tornadoes each year and leads the nation in insurance costs for destructive storms. Tornadoes can happen at any time of the year but typically are more numerous from March till mid-June with May being the month with the most.
In North Texas, deep moisture typically pumps up into the plains from the gulf as dry air stays west. Once that dry air, usually pushed by a frontal passage converges with the warm moist air from the Gulf, thunderstorms develop and it isn’t uncommon for many of those storms to spawn tornadoes.
A tornado is a spiral of warm air being lifted into the cool air of the thunderstorm creating a circular column of wind which can reach speeds on average of 100-300 mph.
Some tornadoes can reach a half-mile wide and travel for a hundred miles. The worst time to look for shelter is when the storm strikes. It’s best to have a plan.
What to do
The following tips can help you formulate a family and work plan long before a tornado strikes.
• Stay informed! Meteorology has come a long way in the last 20 years. Local weather now has the capability, usually to predict severe weather days in advance.
When conditions warrant the possibility for severe weather stay vigilant and tuned into local weather conditions. In today’s world of mass media and social networking it’s much easier to stay informed. Twitter, Facebook and texting are one way.
The Weather Channel and phone weather apps are another. It’s also not a bad idea to invest in a NOAA weather radio with a warning button to get the latest on rapidly changing weather for your area. Be aware that during a severe storm event, telephone capabilities can become overwhelmed and you might be unable to communicate by cell service.
• Don’t wait for a severe weather event to find a safe place to be. Create a family communications plan and designate safe areas for your household and workplace. Most Texas homes do not have basements and few newer homes in this area are built with tornado shelters, but if a neighbor has a shelter or cellar, it might not be a bad idea to make arrangements with them for you and your family.
• Know the difference between a tornado “watch” and a tornado “warning.” A watch means the National Weather Service has detected conditions that may lead to tornadic activity in your area. A warning means that a tornado has been spotted in your area by trained spotters or by weather radar and you should take cover immediately. But, do not panic – stick to your plan and attempt to pay attention to where the tornado is heading.
• If a tornado is headed your direction, DO NOT stand outside to film it. TAKE COVER IMMEDIATELY. Trained observers have lost their lives to these storms, and life-threatening conditions can occur and change rapidly.
What to look for
It is important to watch the skies when your area is in a tornado watch. Some of the things to look for are:
• Dark or greenish looking sky.
• Large hail.
• Large, dark, low-lying clouds (particularly if rotating).
• A loud roar.
Where to go
If a tornado warning goes into effect in your area implement your plan and take cover immediately.
• Assign a designated area for you and your family. If you do not have a shelter or basement then retreat to the center of an interior room. If possible place a mattress or thick blankets over yourself to protect against flying debris.
• Avoid rooms with windows.
• Retreat to bathrooms or closets. Many newer homes have been designed with large windows in the bathroom; you’ll definitely want to avoid those. The point is to put as many walls as possible between you and the exterior of the house.
• If you are in a multiple story building retreat to the lowest floor.
• Protect your head and neck with your arms and hands.
• In the event your home or workplace is damaged, be prepared to safely turn off the gas and electric if possible.
If on the road
If you are in a mobile home or in your car:
• Mobile homes are not safe in the event of a tornado. Make arrangements to seek shelter in a sturdy building once a tornado warning has sounded or weather conditions become so that tornadoes in the area may be possible.
• Make pre-designated plans to retreat to a safe area at the onset of a tornado warning.
• If you commute, pay attention to buildings and exits along your route in the event you find yourself on the highway when a tornado strikes. Look for sturdy buildings that you may seek shelter in. Do not abandon your vehicle in the middle of the highway; always pull to the right side of the road.
• Vehicles are one of the worst places to be in a tornado. If you are in your vehicle and can safely do so, drive away from the storm but remember, when drivers on the road see a tornado in their path, they too will attempt to get away from it and create many hazards. Do not try to outrun a tornado if directly in the path; if possible immediately seek shelter.
• Do not seek shelter under an overpass. This is a place many deaths have occurred as people try to take shelter.
• If no other choice, leave your vehicle and find shelter in a low area or ditch or culvert that won’t flood. It is important to get lower than ground level if possible.
• If caught in your car keep your seatbelt on and get below the windows. Cover yourself with a blanket, coat, or pillow if possible.
At work or home
If at work or away from home:
• If you are in a warehouse, gymnasium or large store, seek shelter in a small room, these buildings are prone to collapse in tornadoes. Keep away from the center.
• Have a designated plan at work just as you would for your home.
• Get to the lowest place and in the smallest room. Once again, put as many walls between yourself and the outside as possible.
• If you have neighbors who are elderly or disabled, consider making their welfare a part of your plan.
Know that in the event of a tornado, emergency services may be overwhelmed and it may take a while for them to get to you. It is good for neighbors to work together and prepare for all kinds of weather emergencies.