Tornadoes & Straight-Line Winds

 

Be Ready Year Round

According to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, an average of 1,200 tornadoes touch down in the United States each year, causing 60 to 65 deaths and 1,500 injuries.

Tornadoes can occur at any time of day, any day of the year. When conditions are warm, humid and windy or skies are threatening, monitor for severe weather watches and warnings.

  • Always heed warnings
    • Keep in mind that even though the weather may be calm at the time a Tornado Watch or Warning is issued, conditions can rapidly deteriorate and become life threatening.
    • Sign Up: Weather Alerts
    • Know Before You Go: Detailed 7 Day Futurecast
  • Have a disaster kit
  • Have a plan
    • Discuss safety with all members of your household
    • Have a list of emergency contacts

Look for Warning Signs

A Hook Echo on radar shows a storm's rotation. (Photo: NOAA)
A Hook Echo on radar shows a storm’s rotation. (Photo: NOAA)

Occasionally tornadoes develop so rapidly, advance warning is not possible. Remain Alert for signs of an approaching tornado, such as:

  • Dark, often greenish sky
  • Large hail
  • Load roar, similar to a freight train
  • On radar, a “hook echo” can signify a strong rotation withing a storm

Tornado Safety Rules

Tornadoes can touch down with little to no warning. Knowing what to do ahead of time could be the difference between life and death.

If You’re Indoors

  • The safest place to be is an underground shelter, basement, or safe room.
  • Know More: How to Build a Safe Room
  • If no underground shelter or safe room is available, a small, windowless interior room or hallway on the lowest level of a sturdy building is the safest alternative.
  • Mobile homes are not safe during tornadoes. Abandon mobile homes and go to the nearest sturdy building or shelter immediately.

If You’re Outdoors

  • Immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter.
  • If flying debris occurs while you are driving, pull over and park.
  • Now you have the following options as a last resort:
  • Stay in your vehicle with the seat belt on.Put your head down below the windows, covering with your hands and a blanket if possible.
  • If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, exit your car, and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands.
  • Your choice should be driven by your specific circumstances

 Tornado Safety & Schools

During a tornado, take a tucked position with hands over the head.
During a tornado, take a tucked position with hands over the head.
  • Conduct frequent tornado drills
    • Ensure students and staff know the protective position. Everyone should be sitting facing an interior wall, elbows to knees and with hands over the back of their heads.
  • Every school should be inspected and tornado shelter areas designated by a registered engineer or architect
  • Rooms with exterior walls should never be used as tornado shelters
  • Basements offer the best protection. Schools without basements should use interior rooms and hallways on the lowest floor, away from windows.
  • Delay lunches or assemblies in large rooms
    • Rooms with large roof spans offer little or no protection from tornado-strength winds
  • Keep children at school beyond regular hours during a Tornado Warning.
  • School bus drivers should identify protective areas along each part of their route where they and their passengers can take cover if overtaken by a tornado or high winds.

 

Straight-Line Winds

Photo: NOAA
These photos from NOAA show straight-line winds.

Straight line winds are any winds not associated with the rotation of a tornado. They are responsible for most thunderstorm wind damage.

  • Straight-line winds can exceed 125 mph
  • A downburst is a small area of rapidly descending air beneath a thunderstorm. (See photos to the right)
  • A downburst can cause damage equivalent to a strong tornado and can be extremely hazardous to aviation

After a Storm

  • Stay away from storm-damaged areas
  • Avoid downed power lines and report them immediately
  • Watch local TV news or listen to NOAA radio for updated information and instructions
  • Help people who may require assistance, including infants, children, the elderly and disabled
  • After the Storm: Power Outage Safety
  • Lights Out: WPRI.com Power Outage Database

*Information from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

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