It’s time to be ready for tornadoes

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There is no such thing as guaranteed safety when a tornado strikes. But it helps to have a family tornado plan in place, based on the kind of dwelling you live in and the safety tips that follow below.
Know where you can take shelter in a matter of seconds and practice a family tornado drill at least once a year. Have a pre-determined place to meet after a disaster.
Flying debris is the greatest danger during a tornado, so store protective coverings — a mattress, sleeping bags, thick blankets — in or next to your shelter space, so they are ready to use on a few seconds’ notice. When a tornado watch is issued, think about the drill and check to make sure all your safety supplies are handy. Turn on local TV or radio stations or NOAA weather radios to stay alert for warnings.
Forget about the old notion of opening windows to equalize pressure; the tornado will blast open the windows for you. If you shop frequently at certain stores, learn where the bathrooms, storage rooms or other interior shelter areas are. Keeping away from windows, find the shortest ways to get to these locations.
All administrators of schools, shopping centers, nursing homes, hospitals, sports arenas, stadiums, mobile-home communities and offices should have a tornado safety plan in place, with easy-to-read signs posted to direct everyone to a safe, close-by shelter area. Schools and office-building managers should run regular well-coordinated drills. If you are planning to build a house, consider adding an underground tornado shelter or an interior “safe room.”
Know the signs
Weather forecasting science is not perfect and some tornadoes do occur without warning. There is no substitute for staying alert to the sky. Besides an obviously visible tornado, here are some things to look and listen for:
• Strong, persistent rotation in the cloud base.
• Whirling dust or debris on the ground under a cloud base — tornadoes sometimes have no funnel.
• Hail or heavy rain followed by either dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift. Many tornadoes are wrapped in heavy precipitation and can’t be seen.
• Day or night, be concerned when you hear a loud, continuous rumble this doesn’t fade in a few seconds, like thunder.
• At night, watch for small, bright, blue-green to white flashes at ground level near a thunderstorm (as opposed to silvery lightning up in the clouds). This indicates that power lines are being snapped by very strong winds, maybe a tornado. Also watch for persistent lowering of the cloud base, illuminated or silhouetted by lightning — especially if it is on the ground, or there is a blue-green-white-colored flash underneath.
Know what to do
In a house with a basement: Avoid windows and get to the basement and under some kind of sturdy protection, or cover yourself with a mattress or sleeping bag. Know where heavy objects rest on the floor above and do not go under them. They may fall down through a weakened floor and crush you.
In a house with no basement, or in a dorm or apartment: Avoid windows. Go to the lowest floor, find a small center room, such as a closet or bathroom, space under a stairwell, or an interior hallway with no windows. Crouch as low as possible to the floor, facing down; cover your head with your hands. A bathtub may offer a shell of partial protection. Cover yourself with a mattress or blanket to protect against falling debris.
In an office building, hospital or nursing home: Go directly to an enclosed, windowless area in the center of the building — away from glass. Crouch down and cover your head. Interior stairwells are usually good places to take shelter. Stay off elevators.
In a mobile home: Get out. Even if your home is tied down, you are probably safer outside – even if the only alternative is to seek shelter out in the open. If your community has a tornado shelter, go there fast. Otherwise, lie flat on low ground away from home, protecting your head. If possible, use open ground away from trees and cars, which can be blown onto you.
At school: Follow the drill.
In a car or truck: Vehicles are extremely dangerous in a tornado. If the tornado is visible, far away, and the traffic is light, you may be able to drive out of its path by moving at right angles to the tornado. Otherwise, park the car as quickly and safely as possible — out of the traffic lanes. Get out and seek shelter in a sturdy building. If in the open country, run to low ground away from any cars. Lie flat and facedown, protecting the back of your head with your arms. Avoid taking shelter under bridges, which can create deadly traffic hazards while offering little protection against flying debris.
In a shopping mall or large store: Do not panic. Watch for others. Move as quickly as possible to an interior bathroom, storage room or other small-enclosed area, away from windows.
In a church or theater: Do not panic. If possible, move quickly but in an orderly fashion to an interior bathroom or hallway, away from windows. Crouch facedown and protect your head with your arms. If there is not time, get under the seats or pews, protecting your head with your arms.
After the tornado
Keep your family together and wait for emergency personnel to arrive. Carefully render aid to those who are injured. Stay away from power lines and puddles with wires in them; they may still be carrying electricity.
Watch your step to avoid broken glass, nails and other sharp objects. Stay out of any heavily damaged houses or buildings; they could collapse at any time.
Remain calm and alert; listen for information and instructions from emergency crews or local officials.
By using common sense and these safety tips, our spring season should be safer and, hopefully, happier for everyone in Carroll County.

Ed Webb is director of Carroll County Emergency Management.