The National Weather Service, NWS, defines a tornado as “a violently rotating column of air touching the ground, usually attached to the base of a thunderstorm”. So, what does this actually mean to those who know nothing about weather? Fundamentally, a tornado is a funnel-like cloud that descends from the base of a cumulonimbus, which is the type of cloud that defines thunderstorms. When a cumulonimbus cloud is strong enough, air beneath the cloud, within the updrafts and downdrafts, can begin rotating strongly enough to pull some of the cloud down towards the ground. When the rotation at the cloud joins the rotation at the ground, and debris is picked up, you have a tornado. While most tornadoes only last a few minutes, the damage can be devastating. Winds can reach up to 300 miles per hour, and the path of the tornado can be a mile wide and 50 miles long. Whenever you are alerted to a tornado in the area: take shelter IMMEDIATELY!
So, what can you do if you’re in the path of a tornado? Well, that depends on where you are. If you’re indoors, stay away from windows. The pressure drops drastically near a tornado, and the harsh change can shatter windows in a matter of seconds. You should also try to stay on the lowest level of your home, in the basement if you have one. If not, hunker down in a bath tub with a mattress over your head to protect yourself from flying debris. There’s also the chance that you are outside driving in your car. The first rule of tornado safety while driving is to never try to outrun it! Tornadoes move quickly and often unpredictably, so trying to drive away from it could cause you injury. If you see a ditch on the side of the road, get out of your car and lie face down in the ditch. This will protect your face and eyes from flying debris as the tornado passes. And speaking of passes, overpasses are not good places to seek shelter from a tornado. Winds are much stronger there, as the overpass creates a wind tunnel, and debris could hurt you even more. Once the tornado has passed, assess damage around you and any injuries to yourself. Seek help as soon as it’s safe!
©2019 Weather Forecaster Sarah Cobern
To learn more about severe weather, visit https://www.globalweatherclimatecenter.com/severe-weather-topics
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