Act quickly after tornado warning

Published 6:41 pm Friday, April 8, 2022

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The severe thunderstorms that danced on and around Suffolk Thursday night were a fresh reminder of the need to take safety precautions when conditions are ripe for tornadoes.

Actually, here at the Suffolk News-Herald, we don’t need a reminder. We lost our longtime office on South Saratoga Street when an EF-1 storm blew through downtown and Riverview in August 2020. Fortunately, the building was unoccupied – and is now being rehabilitated to accommodate 14 upscale apartments. From the ruins, progress.

Our friends at Accuweather this week shared some timely tips on tornado safety that we encourage our readers to heed throughout the spring storm season and beyond.

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Here are some key steps to take if you are under a tornado warning — which means a tornado has been spotted or has been detected on radar — as well as what you should not do.

  • If you see a tornado while driving, do not take shelter under an overpass, and never try to outrun a tornado. The narrow passage underneath an overpass could cause an increase in the wind speed under the bridge, according to weather experts. If the tornado is visible at a far distance, drive at right angles to the perceived path of the twister and seek shelter in a building off the roadway.
  • But when there is no shelter immediately nearby, experts recommend staying in your car, secured into your seat belt, and putting your head down below the window, covering it with your hands or a blanket if you have one. Or, if you can safely get to a low-lying area such as a ditch or ravine, basically lower than the roadway, then exit the car and lie down in the area and cover your head with your hands or use a protective covering like a blanket or tarp. Flying debris is one of the greatest risks when a tornado hits.
  • If you are at home, go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar or the lowest level in the structure. If your house/building does not have such a room, and you know your neighbor’s place does, take shelter in their building (if you have enough time).
  • If that’s not an option and there is no basement, go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level (closet or interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get under a sturdy table and use pillows, blankets or other cushions to protect your head and neck. Gather up pets only if time allows.
  • If you live in a mobile home, leave immediately because it will provide little to no shelter from a tornado. Instead, go to a community shelter, if available, or get as far away from your mobile home as possible and lie down in a low-lying area, covering your head with your hands or use a blanket or other kind of covering.
  • Don’t open windows and doors. A popular myth is that if you open your windows and doors, the pressure inside and outside the house will equalize, and the tornado will cause less damage. However, this is false, and opening doors and windows only wastes precious time.

On average, tornado warnings are issued 13 minutes in advance. This is not a ton of time, but it is enough to follow the above tips and lessen your risk of death or serious injury.