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Don’t Get Swept Off Your Feet!

It’s Time to Get Your District Prepared for the Next Big Tornado

Colorado experienced its first tornado of 2018 on May 21 around 5 PM. It touched down near the town of Agate, located approximately 66 miles southeast of Denver in the Eastern Plains, and was classified as an EF0 or a “weak tornado” on the Enhanced Fujita scale1.

While weak tornadoes can be common, the Centennial State experiences an average of 60 tornadoes a year, and there’s no way of predicting when a more destructive super cell will appear 2. Tornadoes on the higher end of the EF scale only account for 2% of all tornadoes, but they have caused 70% of reported tornado fatalities3.

For example, Colorado residents will not likely forget the EF3 tornado that traveled through Weld County in 2008, resulting in approximately $194 million in damages4. That particular event impacted three Pool members. Unadjusted for inflation, they suffered more than half a million dollars in property damage in total. Another tornado in 2009 hit four other districts, with others coming through in 2014.

Despite the regularity of tornadoes, it may still be difficult for Coloradans to distinguish fact from fiction. Here are a few examples you may have heard:

FICTION
Windows should be left open before a tornado approaches; this will equalize the air pressure that would normally cause your property to explode.

FACT
Houses do not explode due to air pressure; the wind may be the actual culprit behind expanding walls and dislodged rooftops. Opening windows allows winds to enter the structure and should be kept closed with hurricane shutters5.

FICTION
Tornadoes are always visible to the naked eye.

FACT
Some tornadoes hide behind heavy rain and others appear nearly transparent. In fact, tornados can cause damage even if a visible funnel cloud has not formed6.

FICTION
People caught in the storm can tether themselves to a deeply buried stake or well pipe to prevent getting sucked into the tornado.

FACT
The winds are likely either to whip your body around the end of the rope, effectively banging you against everything within its radius, or pull your body from the rope, possibly not in one piece7.

Misinformation, especially when it comes to disasters, poses serious risks to your property and personnel. With this in mind, we have compiled facts and resources below to aid in your district’s tornado preparedness.

  • A tornado watch and tornado warning are not the same: a tornado watch signifies that a tornado is possible and the watch area can span several counties—even states! A tornado warning means that spotters obtained visual confirmation of a tornado, or weather radar has detected one8.
  • May through June is considered tornado season for the state of Colorado. This is the ideal time to review your district’s emergency procedures on escape routes, designated shelter areas for your employees, your district’s stock of emergency supplies, and duty assignments for key personnel like shutting down utilities.
  • Tornadoes may be transparent until they gather enough dust and debris to become visible. But even transparent, they are still very dangerous.
  • On average, tornadoes move from the southwest to the northeast, but they have been known to move in any direction.
  • Tornadoes typically move around 30 MPH but have been clocked at 70 MPH, you can maybe outrun one in a car, but not on foot.
  • In Colorado, tornadoes are most common in spring and summer months east of the Rocky Mountains between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., but they can occur anytime. If a Tornado Watch has been issued for your area, remain vigilant.
  • Invest in an NOAA weather radio or weather alert system like the Pool’s mass notification tool. We are currently offering a tool that provides automated severe weather alerts from the NOAA, called SmartNotice. This service is offered at no cost to members and can be used to message your employees whether as a part of your district’s standard operating procedures for evacuations or to seek immediate confirmation of their whereabouts following a disaster.
    If your district is interested in signing up for the SmartNotice mass notification tool, please email us at csdpool@mcgriff.com. Three districts are using this service already, and we are eager to get more on board.
  • FEMA provides designs and guides on building safe rooms for extreme wind events, which can help you shore up shelter areas9.
  • FEMA also offers a collection of guides on how to protect your property from high winds generated by tornadoes or hurricanes, including how to reinforce garage doors, protecting windows and doors, securing composite shingle and single-ply roofs, and more10.

For more information about tornado preparedness, request your free copy of Ready for Anything, our free, newly updated guide to responding to disasters large and small. Its section on tornados is one of its longest, so there is more information on this topic to help your district prepare for these devastating events. You can request your free copy by visiting csdpool.com/publications.php.

Sources:
1. https://www.denverpost.com/2018/05/22/colorado-tornadoes-2018-agate/
2. https://www.denverpost.com/2017/06/13/colorado-tornado-data/
3. https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1409936139924-14f8f593c82cf0ee0384701252b30995/prepareathon_playbook_tornado_final_090414_508.pdf
4. https://www.mywindsornow.com/news/windsor-tornado-most-expensive-tornado-in-colorado-history/
5. https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/05/130521-tornado-myths-facts-storms-science-nation/
6. https://stormaware.mo.gov/tornado-myths/
7. ftp://ftp.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/extremeevents/specialreports/Tornado-Myths-Facts-and-Safety.pdf
8. https://www.ready.gov/tornadoes
9. https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/2009
10. https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/13270

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