Saturday, April 16, 2011

Tornado's (often referred to as a twister or, erroneously, a cyclone)

By Diane Forrest, RN

On Friday, my old hometown was hit by a tornado.  It came hard and fast and left major destruction in its path.  Buildings were demolished, cars were tossed around like toys, trees were uprooted and injuries were sustained.

One of my earliest memories of tornado's was being in school and filing out to sit in the hall and doing the "duck and cover".  Although I have never actually been in a tornado, it was fun getting out of class and hanging out with the rest of the school.  My husband lived in McComb, Mississippi, and he would always talk about a tornado that hit his town and caused so much damage that Elvis came and did a concert to raise money for them.  Elvis presented the check to his uncle and there was a picture in the newspaper. 
Raw Video: Tornadoes cause destruction in Miss.
Click Pictures to see video
A few years back my father was the district manager of the power company.  We had a scanner so that we could listen to local activity from the fire, police and rescue stations.   On the day of a local doctor's funeral a tornado hit the town.  It knocked down trees and power lines all over town.  My father was a pall bearer at the funeral, so was not aware of the activity going on in the other part of the town, but as my husband and I were listening to the scanner we heard the mayor of the town yelling at the police chief telling him to locate my dad and having him fix the problems or either arrest him!  Luckily, the problems were fixed, the mayor calmed down, and my father was not arrested.

Tornado's are a terrifying event.  They come fast and leave a trail of destruction behind.  Movies and television shows try to desensitize people to the actual seriousness of this weather condition.  Movies like the Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy's house is blown to Oz and lands on the wicked witch seems like an exciting journey.  Twister has a group of people chasing the tornados for scientific research and has flying cows.  Television show like Storm Chasers show real people searching for tornados for adrenaline rushes. 

Although I have never actually been in a tornado (unless you count the time I was invited to participate during the twister ride at Universal Studios in Florida) I have been in the same city while they occur.

Most tornado's have a wind speed of 110 miles an hour, but can reach 300 mph.  They can travel a few miles before dissipating, or dozens of miles. They occur during any time of the year, and in any place in the world.  They can be detected before they occur by Doppler radar, and warnings can be issued to allow people to seek shelter.  Most places have siren warnings and broadcast over television and radio.  If you hear the warnings, take shelter immediately.  If you are in a building or home, go to a basement.  If there isn't a basement, go to an interior hallway or closet on the lowest level.  Stay away from outside walls, corners or windows.  Do not open windows.  Get under a sturdy table.  Protect your head with your arms.   While my husband was bedridden, I would cover him with bed pillows.  Our bedroom had no windows, and was located in the center of the home.

If you are in a vehicle or mobile home, leave immediately and seek shelter in a building.  If there isn't one near, lie flat in a ditch and cover your head with your arms.  Be careful of flying debris, which causes the most injuries and fatalities.  Do not go to an overpass or bridge for shelter as they believed to increase the danger from the tornado by increasing the wind speed and funneling debris underneath the overpass.

Following these few simple guidelines will help to protect you and keep you safe.  If  you live in an area that is prone to tornado activity, devise a plan of action and practice with your family.  Make sure you have plenty of flashlights and check your batteries often.  I put those items on my Christmas list every year, and it's also a good present idea if you have elderly people on your list.

The main thing is be alert and keep safe.  Let me know if you have other safety ideas or tornado stories you would like to share.

What to Do During a Tornado
If you are under a tornado WARNING, seek shelter immediately!
If you are in:
A structure (e.g. residence, small building, school, nursing home, hospital, factory, shopping center, high-rise building)
Go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level. If there is no basement, go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck. Do not open windows.
A vehicle, trailer, or mobile home
Get out immediately and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building or a storm shelter. Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes.
The outside with no shelter
Lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands. Be aware of the potential for flooding.

Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location.

Never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a car or truck. Instead, leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter.

Watch out for flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.


  1. I am heartsick over the devastation the tornadoes caused around the country Friday. In central Illinois we were under a tornado warning for about an hour last night. Fortunately the tornado that did touchdown near here only destroyed a barn.

  2. Understand Beth having lived in Missouri all those years. Glad they missed you. Thanks for the comments and wishing you a wonderful day.