It's a Bird, it's a Plane, No, it's a HOUSE! How to Survive a Tornado
Storm season is upon us and while we may not reside in “Tornado Alley,” Michigan still sees its fair share of tornadoes. Many of us have been bless to never have experienced an actual tornado, yet I’m sure we’ve all been under a tornado warning. Well we hope that none of you will be caught in one, SERVPRO wants to give you some tips and knowledge that can help save your life if you’re ever staring down a tornado.
First things first, what is a tornado and what causes them? A tornado is a violently rotating column of air which descends from a thunderstorm to the ground. No other weather phenomenon can match the fury and destructive power of a tornado. A tornado can destroy large buildings and lift 20-ton railroad cars right off the tracks. While scientist do not fully understand exactly how tornadoes are formed, they do know that a preceding supercell thunderstorm is needed. A supercell is an organized thunderstorm that contains very strong, rotating updraft. This rotation helps to produce severe weather events such as large hail, strong downbursts, and of course, tornadoes. Tornadoes form under a certain set of weather conditions in which three very different types of air need to come together in a specific way. It goes something like this:
Near the ground lies a layer of warm and humid air, along with strong south winds. Colder air and strong southwest winds lie in the atmosphere. Temperature and moisture differences between the surface and the upper levels create what is called instability, one of the necessary ingredient for tornado formation. Thank change in wind speed and the direction with height is known as wind shear. This is linked to the eventual development of rotation from which a tornado may form. A third layer of hot dry air becomes established between the warm, moist air at low levels and the cool, dry air upward. This hot layer acts as a cap and allows the warm air underneath to warm further, making the air even more unstable. Things start to happen when a storm system aloft moves east and begins to lift the various layers. Through this lifting process the cap is removed, in turn setting the stage for an explosive thunderstorm to develop as strong updrafts form. Complex interactions between the updraft and the surrounding winds may cause the updraft to begin rotating… and a tornado is born.
The Difference Between a Watch and A Warning
Your listening to the weather on the TV, your NOAA Weather Radio (don't got one? Get one!), or online. You hear that there’s a tornado watch/tornado warning. Do you know the difference? A tornado watch means that conditions are right for a tornado, and tornadoes are possible. This also means to remain alert and watch the sky. Watch for these danger signs that a tornado is immanent:
- Dark, greenish sky
- Large hail
- A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if its rotating)
- A loud roar, similar to a freight train
If you are noticing any of these sign, you best take cover quickly. That brings us to a tornado warning. This means that a tornado has been spotted by a human eye or radar, and that it is moving towards you in the warning area. Take shelter immediately. Tornadoes are very unpredictable and just because it’s not on a bee-line course to you, doesn’t mean it won’t shift at any moment, change directions and end up in your backyard.
What to Do During a Tornado
So, a tornado warning has been issued and you’re directed to take cover immediately but you don’t know where to go for shelter… Here are the recommended safest places to go based on where you are:
- A Mobile Home/Trailer: Get out immediately and go to the lowest floor of any nearby building or storm shelter. Even if the mobile home is equipped with a tie-down system cannot withstand the force of a tornado’s winds.
- A Vehicle: If you can safely drive away from tornado, please do so. If there’s a sturdy structure available, go inside, go to the lowest floor possible. If you don’t have time or not sure if you have time, or you’re not sure which way the tornado is moving, you can stay in the vehicle, park it but leaving it running so the airbags will work. The airbags and the frame can offer some amount of protection but this is not absolutely safe. The other option is to get out of the car and lay down inside a ditch. See more in “Outside with no Nearby Structure” for what to do here.
- A Structure/Building: Seek shelter in the lowest level of the building (basement, storm cellar). Bring with you your NOAA Weather Radio, so you can get all alerts and updates. If there isn’t a lower level, go to the inner most room on the ground floor. Often a bathroom or laundry room can make a suitable shelter area because the water pipes reinforce the walls, providing a sturdier structure. Put as many walls between you and the outside and stay away from windows and doors. Get down on your knees and use your hands to protect your head and neck from any falling debris. You can cushion yourself with a mattress, but don’t cover yourself. Stay inside until the your certain that the storm had passed, as multiple tornadoes can emerge from the same storm.
- Outside with No Nearby Structure: Lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head and neck with your hands. If you were in a vehicle, make sure you are far enough away from the vehicle so that it doesn’t tumble unto you. Beware of potential flooding in the ditch you are occupying. Do not get under an overpass or bridge, this will increase your risk of injury. You are safer in a low, flat location. Be aware of flying debris, a tornado can pick up significantly large objects and turn them into missiles. Flying debris causes the most tornado deaths.
You Survived a Tornado, Now What??
After a tornado passes and you need to take some additional safety measures. Wait some additional time to be sure that there are no additional tornadoes coming your way. Be careful as you leave you shelter, there might be some unseen damage and debris waiting for you on the other side of the doors. If your home or business has been damaged in the tornado, walk carefully around the outside and check for any injured or trapped people, and check for things like loose power lines, gas leaks, and general structural damage. Leave the area if you smell gas or if there is floodwater around the building. Call your insurance agent and file a claim. Take photos of all the damaged areas to your home, business, and/or vehicles. Call SERVPRO of Oak Park/Ferndale as well, 248.246.0790, we will be out to your home ASAP, usually within 2-4 hours, and we’ll begin emergency services right away as we wait to hear from the insurance company to confirm coverage and obtain approvals. If the destruction to your home or business is extensive, don’t freak out and panic. The American Red Cross and other volunteer agencies will arrive to your area with food and water, and to set up temporary housing and shelters. Regardless the amount of damage your home or business has suffered from this storm, SERVPRO can help. “We are faster to any size disaster!”