Tornado and Severe Weather Safety

What is a Tornado?

A tornado is a violent whirlwind – a rotating funnel of air descending from a thundercloud to the ground. Tornadoes can travel for many miles with wind speeds of 200 miles per hour or more with an average ground speed of 30 to 40 mph. Tornadoes often move from the southwest toward northeast in Arkansas, but when on the ground, these storms can change direction without warning, randomly destroying homes and power lines, uprooting trees, and even hurling large objects – such as automobiles – over long distances. Tornados usually accompany severe thunderstorms. The path of damage left behind by a tornado averages 9 miles long by 200 yards wide, but a severe tornado can damage an area up to 50 miles long and a mile wide. The most destructive force in a tornado is the updraft in the funnel. As this unstable air moves upward at high speeds, it can suction up houses and trees and move them hundreds of feet.

Compared with the other states, Arkansas ranks number 16 for frequency of tornadoes, 4 for number of deaths, 5 for injuries, and 17 for cost of damages. On average, Arkansas has 19 tornados, 6 tornado related deaths, 80 tornado related injuries, and over 11 million dollars in property damage a year.

Watches vs. Warnings

When there are thunderstorms in your area, turn on your radio or TV to get the latest emergency information from local authorities. Severe weather bulletins are issued on TV and radio by the National Weather Service. A battery-powered NOAA weather radio with an alarm function provides around-the-clock warning capacity.

A tornado watch is issued when weather conditions favor the formation of tornadoes, such as, during a severe thunderstorm. When a tornado watch is issued, you should stay tuned to local radio and TV stations. You should watch the weather and be prepared to take shelter immediately if conditions worsen. A tornado warning is issued when a tornado funnel is sighted or indicated by weather radar. TAKE SHELTER AT ONCE! Sometimes tornadoes develop so fast that you have little or no warning before they strike. It is important to know that you cannot depend on seeing a funnel: clouds or rain may block your view. The following weather signs may mean that a tornado is approaching:

  • A dark or green-colored sky
  • A large, dark, low-lying cloud
  • Large hail
  • A loud roar that sounds like a freight train.

If you notice any of these weather conditions, TAKE SHELTER AT ONCE!

Taking Shelter

Flying debris causes most deaths and injuries during a tornado. Although there is no completely safe place during a tornado, some locations are much safer than others.

AVOID WINDOWS. An exploding window can injure or kill. The safest place in the home is the interior part of a basement. If your home does not have a basement, go to an inside room, without windows, on the lowest floor. This could be a center hallway, bathroom, or closet. For added protection, get under something sturdy such as a heavy table. If possible cover your body with a blanket, sleeping bag, or mattress, and protect your head with anything available – even your hands. Avoid taking shelter where there are heavy objects, such as refrigerators or freezers, on the area of floor that is directly above you. They could fall through the floor if the tornado strikes your home.

DO NOT STAY IN A MOBILE HOME DURING A TORNADO! Mobile homes can turn over during strong winds. Even mobile homes with tie-down systems twist and turn under the force of tornado winds.

DO NOT TRY TO OUTRUN A TORNADO IN YOUR CAR! The least desirable place to be in a tornado is in a motor vehicle. If you are in a mobile home, a vehicle or outdoors when a tornado strikes, go to a safe building or other strong structure. If there is no shelter nearby, lie flat in the closest ditch, ravine, or depression. Cover your head to protect it from debris. Avoid areas with many trees and vehicles. (Do not hide under your vehicle.) Plan now to find safe shelter.

If you are in a school, nursing home, hospital, or factory, go to the designated shelter area, which is usually the interior of the lowest floor. Avoid large, open spaces like gymnasiums, cafeterias, or warehouses.

If you are in a high-rise building, go to the designated shelter area if there is one; otherwise, go to a small interior room or hallway.

Planning Ahead

Planning ahead could save your life. Take a few minutes with your family to develop a tornado emergency plan. Discuss where and how to seek shelter. Make sure everyone understands the siren warning system, if there is such a system in your area. Know where your first-aid kit and fire extinguishers are located. Teach your family basic first aid, how to use a fire extinguisher, and how and when to turn off water, gas, and electricity in your home. Make sure your children know: what a tornado is, what tornado watches and warnings are, what county they live in (since warnings are issued by county), and how to take shelter, whether at home or at school.

Because tornadoes are the most unpredictable of storms, the time between the first warning of a tornado and its arrival may be very short. Sometimes, weather conditions change so rapidly that no tornado warning is possible. It is important that you and your family plan for an emergency by learning to recognize the signs of an approaching tornado, learning the emergency warning system for your area, and finding out how to reach the best available shelter.

Is your home insured against tornadoes and other natural disasters? If you are interested in coverage in Arkansas, please contact a Farm Bureau Insurance agent.