Tornado drill set for today

Published 10:20 pm Monday, March 14, 2011

A street sign in the Burnett’s Mill area lies among splintered wood, home insulation and other debris after the April 28, 2008 tornado in Suffolk. A tornado preparedness drill is planned for this morning.

Suffolk residents who were around in 2008 know the damaging effects tornados can have.

The twister that tore apart homes and businesses, tossed cars like toys and uprooted trees across a wide swath of the city on April 28 that year fortunately did not take any lives — but it could have. That’s what makes a statewide drill set for today so important.

“Disasters like tornados happen at a moment’s notice,” said Capt. James T. Judkins of the Suffolk Department of Fire and Rescue. “Unlike a hurricane, you don’t have any prep time. You’ve got maybe 15 minutes at most.”

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At 9:45 a.m. today, thousands of people throughout the state will practice what they should do in case of a tornado watch or warning.

At that time, the National Weather Service will send a test tornado warning that will trigger an alert and message on NOAA Weather Radio, similar to what listeners would hear during an actual tornado warning. This will prompt radio and television stations to broadcast a test message.

Judkins said people should practice what they would do in case of a tornado, wherever they are.

Suffolk’s public and private schools and a number of businesses are registered to participate, but anyone can practice, Judkins said.

In case of a tornado, people who are already in a sturdy building should stay there, move to the lowest floor of the building — the basement, if it has one — and take refuge toward the interior of the building, away from glass windows. In a home, a stairwell or inside hallway is usually the best place, Judkins said.

Once there, find a sturdy piece of furniture to crawl under or lean against and protect your body from flying debris with a heavy blanket or pillows.

People who find themselves outdoors, in a vehicle or in a mobile home when a tornado is approaching should seek shelter in the nearest substantial building. If there is not one nearby, lie down flat outdoors in a ditch, depression or culvert, covering your head with your hands.

Nobody should ever seek shelter under a highway overpass or bridge, Judkins said. Underpasses frequently become pathways for flying debris during tornados, Judkins said, or the structure itself could be destroyed. Likewise, never go to or stay in a mobile home during a tornado.

Judkins said people who are driving when they hear this morning’s alert should not actually stop their cars on the highway, as that itself could be dangerous under normal conditions. However, they should review in their head what they would do if they saw a funnel cloud at that particular time.

“Stop and think, ‘What if I see a funnel cloud,’” Judkins said. “What am I going to do? Where am I going to go?”

For more information on tornado preparedness, visit