Tornado safety

Alberta City, Alabama, on April 27, 2011

Alberta City, Alabama, on April 27, 2011

This image always gives me the willies.

I saved it from an AP story about the big Tuscaloosa tornado on April 27, 2011. You can click the above to get the full-sized picture.

That yellow circled area used to be an old, very small wooden apartment complex that I had lived in a few years prior.

Somewhere to the immediate right of that circle there used to be a house – everybody knew the little building we lived in, which was very old and rickety, wouldn’t stand up to a tornado, and we were all supposed to run down and shelter in that house when a big one came through.

There was no safe shelter that day, when an EF4 tornado came through.

It was a rough neighborhood, and I was going through a rough time, so I didn’t really get acquainted with anybody there and don’t know who lived and who died there on April 27th.

I haven’t looked at that photo in a while, but did today as this post came to mind, after the tragedy in Oklahoma yesterday and the earlier tragedy in Texas.

Most readers probably know the safety drill. I’m just writing to get over the horror everyone feels who has ever hidden in their safe place when local sirens blew. There is a special empathy with those in Oklahoma who were in a similar position yesterday, and in Granbury, Texas on May 15, and who must have realized, just before the tornado hit, that their luck had finally run out.

An awful thing.

Tornadoes can happen anywhere

The closest I’ve ever been to a tornado was on May 31, 1998, in Troy, New York, when one went overhead. I don’t know if it was the F1, F2 or F3 recorded that day. I do know we were stupid, and very lucky.

People aren’t used to tornados up here, and it was my first experience with one (I moved down South the next year and got quite an education!). We all ran down to the cellar – everybody has cellars up here because they help keep houses warm during winter – but we didn’t hide under anything. We just sat there and looked out through the basement windows. It really did get as black as night and I wondered what would happen if the house did get hit. Then it cleared. That funnel apparently touched down east of us, in Johnsonville.

Tornadoes can happen anywhere. If you have a basement, you should get down there and stay down there until the all clear is issued, even if the sirens stop (if you have sirens – there are no tornado sirens in New York’s Capital Region). In Joplin, Missouri, the sirens stopped before the EF5 tornado arrived on May 22, 2011, and killed more than 150 people.

Safe rooms are good, if you don’t have a basement, but with the worst tornadoes (and these can happen suddenly, unexpectedly, as yesterday’s EF4 in OK did), you need to be below ground. We’ve seen plenty of images of F4 damage recently in the news. It’s even more imperative to get below ground in an F5/EF5 because they do this.

Hide from the wind

It isn’t the wind so much as it is the debris carried by the fast wind that maims, kills and destroys.

Too, tornadoes aren’t the only dangerous wind storms out there.

FEMA has another good publication, Against the Wind, that’s also free. Check it out.

NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center website also has an excellent tornado FAQ that is must reading for everybody. The information about derechos (straight-line wind storms) is also very helpful.

I also enjoyed Nancy Mathis’s Storm Warning: The Story of a Killer Tornado. She not only presents the story of the EF5 in 1999 that hit close to the same places near OK City that yesterday’s EF4 ravaged; she also introduces us to Ted Fujita, Gary English and other notable personalities and delivers quite a lot of weather and tornado science without the reader realizing it. It’s a good introduction to these terrible storms for anyone who wants more details.

Let’s not live in fear

After tragedy strikes, there must be grief, respectful remembrance and a renewed commitment to safety awareness, but then it is always important to just relax and get on with the ordinary things of life.

And some not so ordinary . . .

(Note: There’s an ad for BCR at the very end, but the majority of the video is, well, a great antidote to horror and fear.)

Categories: Weather

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