National Weather Service warns U.S.; tornado preparedness tips

As warnings about life-threatening weather spread across the United States, be sure you know what to do if severe weather such as a tornado strikes. Photo: NOAA

SAN DIEGO, April 14, 2012 –  The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center is forecasting the development of several strong to violent, long-track tornadoes over parts of the central and southern Plains Saturday through the evening.

The areas most at risk include central and eastern Kansas, central and eastern Nebraska, and central and north central Oklahoma. Elsewhere, severe storms are also possible from north Texas to Iowa and southeast South Dakota and southern Minnesota. There have already been sightings in Kansas and Oklahoma.

What exactly is a tornado? A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from the base of a thunderstorm down to the ground. Tornado intensities are classified on the Fujita Scale with ratings between F0 (weakest) to F5 (strongest). They are capable of completely destroying well-made structures, uprooting trees and hurling objects through the air like deadly missiles. Although severe tornadoes are more common in the Plains States, tornadoes have been reported in every state.

Severe weather is a fact of life at this time of year in many regions of the United States. Nevertheless, many people remain unprepared. According to survey research by the American Red Cross, only four percent of all Americans have taken all of the preparedness actions recommended, and 23 percent have not taken a single action, not even storing emergency food and water or putting a basic family evacuation plan in place.

What should you do if severe weather such as a tornado strikes?

First, it’s important to know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning.

A tornado watch means tornadoes are possible in and near the watch area. Review and discuss your emergency plans, and check supplies and your safe room. Be ready to act quickly if a warning is issued or you suspect a tornado is approaching. Acting early helps to save lives!

A tornado warning is much more serious. It means a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Tornado warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property. Go immediately under ground to a basement, storm cellar or an interior room (closet, hallway or bathroom).

Red Cross workers talk with Samantha Snell, sister of Joe Zollman of Henryville, Indiana, whose home was destroyed by a tornado in March 2012.They search the rubble that was their home on the hill for anything they can salvage. Photo: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

If you’re in an area at risk of severe weather, the following are some basic tips provided by the American Red Cross 

  • During any storm, listen to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio to stay informed about watches and warnings. Know which radio station is the emergency radio station in your area.
  • Know your community’s warning system. Communities have different ways of warning residents about tornados, with many having sirens intended for outdoor warning purposes.
  • Watch for tornado warning signs such as dark, greenish clouds, large hail, a roaring noise, a cloud of debris or funnel clouds. Secure outside items such as lawn furniture or trash cans, which could be picked up by the wind and injure someone.
  • If a tornado watch is issued, it means tornadoes are possible and people should be ready to act quickly. If a tornado warning is issued, it means a tornado has been sighted or indicated by radar and people should go underground immediately to a basement or storm cellar or to an interior room such as a bathroom or closet.
  • Pick a safe room in your home where household members and pets can gather during a tornado. This should ideally be a basement, storm cellar, or interior room on the lowest floor with no windows.
  • In schools, hospitals, and shopping centers, move to pre-designated shelter areas. Interior hallways on lowest floors are best. If the building is not of reinforced construction, go to a nearby one that is, or take cover outside on low, protected ground. Stay out of auditoriums, gymnasiums, and other structures with wide free-span roofs.
  • In open country, move away from the tornado/s path at right angles. If there is not time to escape, lie flat in the nearest ditch or ravine.
  • If a tornado warning is issued and you are caught outside, hurry to the basement of a nearby sturdy building. If you cannot get to a building, get in a vehicle, buckle in, and drive to the closest sturdy shelter. But do not try to outrun a tornado. If flying debris occurs or the tornado is getting too close, pull over and stay in the car with the seat belt on, your head below the window, and cover your head with a blanket or your hands.
  • If you don’t have a vehicle, find ground lower than the surface of the roadway such as a ditch, and cover your head with your hands. Stay there until the tornado passes.
  • Mobile homes are not safe during tornadoes or severe winds. Do not stay in a mobile home if tornadoes are threatening. Get in a vehicle and seek shelter elsewhere immediately.

Although it may seem silly, practice tornado drills with your family from time to time so everyone knows what to do if a tornado warning is issued.

Click here to get the complete tornado preparedness checklist which includes tips for recovery after a tornado strikes.   

The American Red Cross website is an excellent resource packed with information about disaster preparedness, whether for a tornado, hurricane, wildfires, earthquakes or other natural disasters. Visit or your local American Red Cross chapter website.

If you live in an area at risk for severe weather, please stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio and your local NWS Weather Forecast Office for the latest updates and warnings. We want you as a Communities reader for many years to come. Stay safe.


Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a 20-year American Red Cross disaster response volunteer trains disaster relief volunteers as an advanced instructor.

Read more in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.


Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities at” when quoting from or linking to this story.   



Copyright © 2012 by Falcon Valley Group


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Gayle Falkenthal

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, MS, APR, is President of the Falcon Valley Group, a San Diego based communications consulting firm. Falkenthal is a veteran award winning broadcast and print journalist, editor, producer, talk host and commentator. She is an instructor at National University in San Diego, and previously taught in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University.


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