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Do you know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning? A warning means a tornado is possible. It is important to act quickly by reviewing emergency plans and checking supplies. A tornado warning means that a tornado has been sighted or indicated on weather radar. You should implement your emergency plan immediately.

Tornadoes can strike virtually anywhere, at any time, but the most deadly month of the year from tornados is April. Violent by nature, tornadoes are capable of completely leveling a home or building, uprooting trees, and sending objects through the air like a torpedo. While some tornadoes arrive without warning, keeping eyes to the sky for these warning signs can help you prepare for safety.

  • Strong winds with persistent rotation in the cloud base.
  • Whirling dust or debris.
  • Hail or heavy rain followed by either dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift.
  • Day or night – Loud, continuous roar or rumble, which doesn’t fade in a few seconds like thunder.
  • If it is nighttime, look for bright blue- or green-colored flashes near the ground. That is an indication of snapped power lines and an almost sure sign of intense wind or a tornado.

You could be anywhere when a tornado strikes – at home, work, school, or in the car. According to the CDC, the key to surviving a tornado and reducing the risk of injury lies in planning, preparing, and practicing what you would do if a tornado strikes. It is important to have a family tornado plan in place and practice a tornado drill at least once a year. Know where you can take shelter in a matter of seconds. Store protective coverings (e.g., mattress, sleeping bags, thick blankets, etc.) in or next to your shelter space.

When a tornado watch is issued, think about the drill and check to make sure all your safety supplies are handy. Turn on local television or radio and stay alert for warnings and weather changing conditions. Large hail, blowing debris, or the sound of an approaching tornado may alert you. Many people say approaching tornadoes sound like a freight train.

Although there is no completely safe place during a tornado, it is important for everyone, including businesses, to have a tornado emergency plan in place and know the best places to keep safe, both indoors and outdoors, during a tornado warning. Most importantly, children need to know that a tornado safe place is not the same as a fire meeting place.

At home, in an apartment building, or dormitory:

  • Flying debris is the greatest danger in tornadoes.
  • Stay away from windows.
  • Go to the basement or lowest level.
  • Get under a stairwell, in an interior hallway, or in a bathroom or closet.
  • Crouch low to the floor and cover your head with your hands, mattress, blankets, sleeping bag, or helmet to protect against falling debris in case the roof and ceiling fail.
  • 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 apartment buildings and dorms. The power could fail and leave you trapped.
  • Don’t forget your pet(s). Know its favorite hiding place. If you have to evacuate, take your pet with you

In a mobile home: Never stay in a mobile home during a tornado! Even if your mobile home is tied down, it can’t withstand the force of tornado winds. If there is no shelter nearby, lie flat in the nearest ditch, ravine, or culvert and shield your head with your hands.

In an office building, hospital, school, and other public buildings: Go directly to an enclosed area away from windows and glass doors on the lowest floor possible.

  • Interior stairwells are usually good places to take shelter.
  • Crouch down and cover your head.
  • Stay off elevators as the power could fail and leave you trapped.
  • Avoid auditoriums, cafeterias and gymnasiums that have flat, wide-span roofs.

In a shopping mall, theatre, or large store: These buildings are especially dangerous because the roof structure is usually supported solely by the outside walls. These types of buildings hit by tornados cannot withstand the enormous pressure and will simply collapse. But don’t panic!

  • If there is no time to get to a tornado shelter or to a lower level, move quickly to an interior bathroom, storage room or other small enclosed area, away from windows.
  • Try to get under a door frame or get up against something that will support or deflect falling debris. For instance, in a department store, get up against heavy shelving or counters. In a theater, get under the seats. And, remember to protect your head.

On the road: The least desirable place to be during a tornado is in a motor vehicle – car, truck, bus. Never try to outrun a tornado in a motor vehicle, and do not stay in the vehicle as it can easily be picked up and dropped by the tornado.

  • Seek shelter in a sturdy building, or underground if possible.
  • If you cannot seek shelter, leave the vehicle and safely get lower than the level of the roadway. Lie in that area, covering your head with your hands.
  • Avoid seeking shelter under bridges, which can create deadly traffic hazards while offering little protection against flying debris.
  • If you are caught by extreme winds or flying debris and must stay inside the vehicle,  keep your seat belt on, put your head down below the windows and cover your head.

In the open outdoors: If possible, seek shelter in a sturdy building. If there is no adequate shelter immediately available:

  • Lie flat and face-down on low ground.
  • Protect your head with an object or with your arms.
  • Stay as far away from trees and cars as possible.

Once a tornado has passed, the dangers are not over. Here are a few “after tornado” safety tips:

  • Seek aid to those injured.
  • Listen for information and instructions from emergency crews or local office.
  • Stay away from power lines and puddles with wires as they may still be carrying electricity.
  • Watch your step to avoid broken glass, nails, and other sharp objects.
  • Stay out of any heavily damaged homes or buildings; they could collapse at any time.
  • Do not use matches or lighters, in case of leaking natural gas pipes or fuel tanks nearby.
  • Phone lines are frequently overwhelmed in disaster situations. Use the phone for emergency calls only.

Fortunately, with preparedness everyone has the chance to survive a tornado.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.

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