It’s springtime and that means stormy weather, especially in regions of the country prone to experiencing tornadoes. Tornadoes are possible even in areas outside of “Tornado Alley,” so learning about emergency preparedness is worthwhile no matter where you live, as tornadoes can strike when you’re on vacation or on a business trip in another state.
Learn about watch or warning terms
These are two terms used by weather forecasters, and they are easily confused, but have very different meanings. A tornado watch means that the weather conditions are such that a tornado MAY form. A tornado warning means that a tornado HAS formed, and is either visible or indicated on radar. A tornado warning means that you should take shelter immediately.
Learn about the EF-scale
When weather forecasters talk about tornadoes, you will often hear them refer to the strength of a tornado using the letters EF, followed by a number from zero to five. “EF” stands for “Enhanced Fujita,” a scale that indicates a tornado’s potential destructiveness based on wind speeds. An EF-0 tornado causes light, but still noticeable damage, such as downed tree limbs, or damage to gutters and siding. An EF-5 tornado will cause major destruction, with whole buildings completely destroyed. The tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri in 2011 was rated an EF-5 tornado; more than 158 people were killed, another 1,150 were injured, and resulting in $2.8 billion in damage.
Tips to prepare for a tornado
If you live in a tornado-prone area, two of the most important things you can do are: 1) identify a safe area for everyone in the household to gather (including pets!), and 2) have an emergency kit assembled.
A safe area in a home is generally on the lowest level, such as a basement or storm cellar. If you don’t have a basement or storm cellar, find an interior room on the first floor with no windows, such as a closet.
An emergency kit should contain drinking water, a flashlight, an emergency radio (hand-crank or battery-operated), a first aid kit, non-perishable food, a whistle, and extra batteries (for both the flashlight and the radio, if needed). More details on what to include in a well-stocked emergency prep kit can be found at Ready.gov.
Prepare your home to avoid a homeowners insurance claim
Tornadoes can cause considerable damage to a home and no one wants to file a homeowners insurance claim. If your home has a natural gas or propane line, make sure everyone knows how to shut it off safely (check with your local utilities for detailed instructions). You may also need to shut off your water or electricity, depending on how extensive the damage is. It’s also a good idea for everyone in the home to know where fire extinguishers are located — and how to use them. They can expire, so check them regularly.
Living in a tornado-prone area can mean going to the basement frequently during the height of tornado season. If your area is equipped with a siren warning system, know what it sounds like.
Take a moment during storm season to review your homeowners policy and familiarize yourself with what is covered. Check out what others have said about how their carriers responded to tornado damage. Above all, stay safe.
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