Deadly Tornadoes Have Skyrocketed in the U.S. 2011...Why and What Lies Ahead?

publication date: Jun 2, 2011
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Tornadoes have been in the news a lot of late and for good reason. The U.S. is unfortunately experiencing one of its worst years for killer twisters. The reason why is interesting and was actually predicted by weather forecaster Joe Bastardi earlier this spring in numerous news outlets that interviewed him. In an article for the Examiner in late April, Bastardi clearly predicted another problematic month in May for tornado activity (and floods) and explained why:

 
"After the most active month on record for tornadoes in our country in April, and in a year in which we are on a record pace for number of tornadoes, WeatherBell Analytics chief meteorologist and former AccuWeather.com meteorologist Joe Bastardi is forecasting even more tornadoes to hit the south in May, as an active severe weather pattern is expected to continue due to a constant battle zone setting up between the hot and cold right across the Mississippi and Tennessee Valley regions.

Bastardi says that the abnormal amount of chill across the northern half of the United States this spring has pushed the severe weather zone further south and east than it would be in a typical spring season. As this pattern is expected to continue into May, Bastardi thinks that more tornado dread will continue for the same areas that have been devastated this past month, although he notes that it probably won't be as bad as April.

Other impacts besides ones from the severe weather include potential flooding and late season freezes across the eastern two thirds of the nation that could have crop and commodity prices rising by early summer. These continuous Midwestern storms are delaying the crucial planting season across many areas, which will ultimately affect food supply and the economy, according to Bastardi."



Safety in a Tornado


The map below shows the risk of more significant (F2 and stronger) tornadoes, which are concentrated in the middle of the country, especially in the south. But, small select portions of the east coast are not immune from damaging twisters; witness yesterday's tornadoes which caused fatalities in western Massachusetts. (An F2 tornado has winds of 113 to 157 mph and produces considerable damage: Roofs torn off frame houses; mobile homes demolished; boxcars overturned; large trees snapped or uprooted; light-object missiles generated; cars lifted off ground.)





Even if you live in a part of the country that's not at risk for tornadoes, you and your loved ones should be smart about being safe from twisters because we travel and the weather can be unpredictable.

The following advice and recommendations are excerpted from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

 
"There is no such thing as guaranteed safety inside a tornado. Freak accidents happen; and the most violent tornadoes can level and blow away almost any house and its occupants. Extremely violent F5 tornadoes are very rare, though. Most tornadoes are actually much weaker and can be survived using these safety ideas...

Prevention and practice before the storm: At home, have a family tornado plan in place, based on the kind of dwelling you live in and the safety tips below. Know where you can take shelter in a matter of seconds, and practice a family tornado drill at least once a year. Have a pre-determined place to meet after a disaster. Flying debris is the greatest danger in tornadoes; so store protective coverings (e.g., mattress, sleeping bags, thick blankets, etc) in or next to your shelter space, ready to use on a few seconds' notice. When a tornado watch is issued, think about the drill and check to make sure all your safety supplies are handy. Turn on local TV, radio or NOAA Weather Radio and stay alert for warnings...If you shop frequently at certain stores, learn where there are bathrooms, storage rooms or other interior shelter areas away from windows, and the shortest ways to get there. All administrators of schools, shopping centers, nursing homes, hospitals, sports arenas, stadiums, mobile home communities and offices should have a tornado safety plan in place, with easy-to-read signs posted to direct everyone to a safe, closeby shelter area. Schools and office building managers should regularly run well-coordinated drills. If you are planning to build a house, especially east of the Rockies, consider an underground tornado shelter or an interior "safe room".

Know the signs of a tornado: Weather forecasting science is not perfect and some tornadoes do occur without a tornado warning. There is no substitute for staying alert to the sky. Besides an obviously visible tornado, here are some things to look and listen for:

  •     Strong, persistent rotation in the cloud base.
  •     Whirling dust or debris on the ground under a cloud base -- tornadoes sometimes have no funnel!
  •     Hail or heavy rain followed by either dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift. Many tornadoes are wrapped in heavy precipitation and can't be seen.
  •     Day or night - Loud, continuous roar or rumble, which doesn't fade in a few seconds like thunder.
  •     Night - Small, bright, blue-green to white flashes at ground level near a thunderstorm (as opposed to silvery lightning up in the clouds). These mean power lines are being snapped by very strong wind, maybe a tornado.
  •     Night - Persistent lowering from the cloud base, illuminated or silhouetted by lightning -- especially if it is on the ground or there is a blue-green-white power flash underneath.

What to do...

  • In a house with a basement: Avoid windows. Get in the basement and under some kind of sturdy protection (heavy table or work bench), or cover yourself with a mattress or sleeping bag. Know where very heavy objects rest on the floor above (pianos, refrigerators, waterbeds, etc.) and do not go under them. They may fall down through a weakened floor and crush you.
  • In a house with no basement, a dorm, or an apartment: Avoid windows. Go to the lowest floor, small center room (like a bathroom or closet), under a stairwell, or in an interior hallway with no windows. Crouch as low as possible to the floor, facing down; and cover your head with your hands. A bath tub may offer a shell of partial protection. Even in an interior room, you should cover yourself with some sort of thick padding (mattress, blankets, etc.), to protect against falling debris in case the roof and ceiling fail.
  • In an office building, hospital, nursing home or skyscraper: Go directly to an enclosed, windowless area in the center of the building -- away from glass and on the lowest floor possible. Then, crouch down and cover your head. Interior stairwells are usually good places to take shelter, and if not crowded, allow you to get to a lower level quickly. Stay off the elevators; you could be trapped in them if the power is lost.
  • In a mobile home: Get out! Even if your home is tied down, you are probably safer outside, even if the only alternative is to seek shelter out in the open. Most tornadoes can destroy even tied-down mobile homes; and it is best not to play the low odds that yours will make it. If your community has a tornado shelter, go there fast. If there is a sturdy permanent building within easy running distance, seek shelter there. Otherwise, lie flat on low ground away from your home, protecting your head. If possible, use open ground away from trees and cars, which can be blown onto you.
  • At school: Follow the drill! Go to the interior hall or room in an orderly way as you are told. Crouch low, head down, and protect the back of your head with your arms. Stay away from windows and large open rooms like gyms and auditoriums.
  • In a car or truck: Vehicles are extremely dangerous in a tornado. If the tornado is visible, far away, and the traffic is light, you may be able to drive out of its path by moving at right angles to the tornado. Otherwise, park the car as quickly and safely as possible -- out of the traffic lanes. [It is safer to get the car out of mud later if necessary than to cause a crash.] Get out and seek shelter in a sturdy building. If in the open country, run to low ground away from any cars (which may roll over on you). Lie flat and face-down, protecting the back of your head with your arms. Avoid seeking shelter under bridges, which can create deadly traffic hazards while offering little protection against flying debris.
  • In the open outdoors: If possible, seek shelter in a sturdy building. If not, lie flat and face-down on low ground, protecting the back of your head with your arms. Get as far away from trees and cars as you can; they may be blown onto you in a tornado.
  • In a shopping mall or large store: Do not panic. Watch for others. Move as quickly as possible to an interior bathroom, storage room or other small enclosed area, away from windows.
  • In a church or theater: Do not panic. If possible, move quickly but orderly to an interior bathroom or hallway, away from windows. Crouch face-down and protect your head with your arms. If there is no time to do that, get under the seats or pews, protecting your head with your arms or hands.
 



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Eric Tyson is the only best-selling personal finance author who has an extensive background as an hourly-based financial advisor and who does not accept speaking fees, endorsement deals or fees of any type from companies in the financial services industry or product or service providers recommended in his articles, books and his publications.

 

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