Although the Midwest is still locked in winter, the first signs of spring tornado season have already appeared in the Southeast, with 22 twister reports over the past 24 hours.
We’ve actually been pretty lucky the past four years, as tornado activity has run below average for much of that time - but the second half of 2015 featured a decided uptick in these destructive storms.
El Nino years, in particular, seem to produce more twisters in the southern states, and while no one can predict the level of tornadic activity we will see in 2016, it only takes one tornado to ruin your entire day.
All but a small part of the United States is vulnerable to these storms. The strongest generally occur in an area we call Tornado Alley (below Left), which runs from middle Texas north though Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. This is the area where you will generally find the largest and most powerful tornadoes; the F5 wedge type.
|Tornado Alley - Dixie Alley|
Fortunately, much of the mid-west is sparsely populated, and so the number of tornado deaths that occur here are actually less than in other areas of the country.
DIXIE ALLEY (above right) sees more frequent, albeit usually less severe tornadoes. Due to a higher population density, more deaths occur in Dixie Alley than in Tornado Alley most years.
Which is why every home and office should have a NOAA weather radio. Once thought of as mainly a source of local weather information, it has now become an `All-Hazards' alert system as well.
Having a safe place to go in your home during a tornado can be life saving. A basement is best, but an interior hallway or windowless room may provide some protection as well.
In 2012 the CDC’s MMWR issued an analysis of the 2011 massive tornado outbreak, that stressed the importance of safe rooms. Due to the length of the report, I’ve only reproduced a few excerpts.
Follow the link to read:
Tornado-Related Fatalities — Five States, Southeastern United States, April 25–28, 2011
WeeklyJuly 20, 2012 / 61(28);529-533
Individuals who work or live in a tornado-prone area should develop a tornado safety plan prior to severe weather.
During April 25–28, 2011, the third deadliest tornado disaster occurred in the southeastern U.S. despite modern advances in tornado forecasting, advanced warning times, and media coverage. CDC reviewed data from the American Red Cross, death certificates and the National Weather Service to describe the fatalities by demographic characteristics, shelter used, cause of death, and tornado severity in the affected states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee. Of the 338 deaths, approximately one-third were older adults, almost half occurred in single-family homes, and a quarter happened in mobile homes. One-half of the 27 tornadoes were rated powerful (EF-4 or EF-5) and were responsible for almost 90 percent of the deaths. The use of safe rooms is crucial to preventing tornado-related deaths.
FEMA has a good deal of advice on exactly how to construct a safe room – either above or below ground.
Residential Safe Rooms
The information below will help you understand how having a safe room in your home can protect your family and save the lives of those you care about.
Find answers to your Questions about Building a Safe Room, including:
- What is the cost of installing a safe room?
- Can I install a safe room in an existing home?
- Can I build the safe room myself?
- Where is the best location for the safe room?
- Where can I find plans for safe room construction?
Building a Safe Room in Your HouseFor more details about how you can build a safe room in your home, go to the FEMA P- 320, Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business page before downloading it from the FEMA Library.
Having a good (and well rehearsed) family emergency plan is essential for any emergency. Even with a safe room, family members could become separated (they may be sent to different hospitals or shelters) in the post-disaster chaos.
Some may be injured and unable to provide information about their families.So it is important to set up a plan, including meeting places and out-of-state contacts, and individual wallet information cards - before you need it. To that end READY.GOV has some advice, and tools, to help you do just that.
Plan to Protect Yourself & Your Family
Family Emergency Plan
(PDF - 3Mb)
Prepare yourself and your family for a disaster by making an emergency plan.
Download the Family Emergency Plan (FEP) (PDF - 750Kb), print the pages and fill them in offline.
Your emergency planning should also address the care of pets, aiding family members with access and functional needs and safely shutting off utilities.
You may also want to inquire about emergency plans at work, daycare and school. If no plans exist, consider volunteering to help create one. Read more about school and workplace plans.
Once you’ve collected this important information, gather your family members and discuss the information to put in the plan. Practice your plan at least twice a year and update it according to any issues that arise.
Together with adequate emergency supplies, a solid first aid kit, and an emergency battery operated NWS Weather Radio, these steps will go a long ways to protecting you, and your family, from a wide variety of potential disasters.
For more on all of this, a partial list of some of my preparedness blogs include: