Prepare now for tornado season

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

According to the National Weather Service, 2003 was the most active year for Virginia tornadoes in more than 50 years of recorded storm data. From Roanoke to Loudoun County, from Virginia Beach to Suffolk, a record 31 confirmed twisters hit Virginia last year.

In order to prepare local citizens for tornado activity this year, Suffolk Emergency Management Coordinator Captain James T. Judkins has taken a look back at last year, and offered tips that could help save lives.

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Judkins said the Commonwealth’s first confirmed tornado was actually reported at 2:41 p.m. in Suffolk on Feb. 22, 2003.

&uot;We had an F0 tornado that roared through the King’s Fork-Burnett’s Mill area,&uot; he said. &uot;Several 50- and 60-foot-tall trees were pushed over into houses, and numerous tree trunks were twisted and their tops sheared off.&uot;

Judkins added that the path of that tornado was one mile long and 50 yards wide.

&uot;The tornado initially touched down near Mount Zion Elementary School on Pruden Boulevard,&uot; he said. &uot;It disappeared after toppling a large tree on a house in Burnett’s Mill near Obici Hospital. The estimated damages were in excess of $25,000. Fortunately, there was no one injured.

Tornado confirmations are made by the National Weather Service personnel at the Wakefield office, who survey the damaged areas. During 2003, he said, at least three other storm sites were surveyed for possible tornado activity, however, they were ruled out as &uot;tornado sites&uot;

Across the state, the majority of the tornadoes to strike Virginia last year were F0 or F1 on the Fujita Wind Damage Scale with winds of up to 112 mph. Though these weather events were weak and short-lived, Judkins cautioned that tornadoes often strike with little or no advance warning and can destroy lives and property.

&uot;Tornadoes can come up suddenly, anytime and anywhere,&uot; he said. &uot;Now, before one strikes the city, is certainly the time to start thinking about tornado preparedness and safety.&uot;

he said there are environmental clues to indicate an approaching tornado including a dark, often greenish sky, large hail and a loud roar similar to a freight train. The general rule for tornado safety is &uot;go low and stay low,&uot; meaning go to the lowest level of the structure away from windows and crouch in a low position with your head covered.

&uot;Everyone should be prepared and using a NOAA Weather Radio, or staying tuned to weather conditions on the television or radio stations, can give citizens enough time to take action before a tornado actually strikes,&uot; said Judkins. &uot;The National Weather Service issues watches and warnings to alert the public about possible tornadoes and they can sometimes make a great deal of difference when it comes to your safety.&uot;

He added that it is important to know and understand the difference between a tornado watch and a warning.

&uot;A tornado watch means weather conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes,&uot; he said. &uot;If a tornado watch is broadcast, stay tuned for further information and possible warnings. You should be prepared to take cover if necessary.&uot;

The captain added that a tornado warning means a tornado has actually been sighted. Warnings are issued for individual counties and include the tornado’s location, direction and speed.

&uot;If you are in or near the tornado’s path, seek shelter immediately,&uot; Judkins cautioned. &uot;Don’t attempt to look for the tornado. Many Virginia tornadoes are obscured by rain and may not be visible at all or until it is too late to take cover.&uot;