Tornadoes are violent weather events that can appear suddenly and without warning, leaving a path of destruction, devastation, and even death in their path. Knowing what to do in the event of a twister could save your life.
Pennsylvania probably isn’t the first place you would think of when hearing the word tornado. Even though tornadoes are more common in the midwest, they can occur in any state at any time of year, and frequently do in the commonwealth.
Tornadoes can be destructive and extremely dangerous weather emergencies. They can appear suddenly and without warning. Pennsylvania typically averages 16 tornadoes a year, according to the National Weather Service, occurring most frequently in May, June, and July.
According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there have been close to 1,000 tornadoes across the state from 1950 through 2022, and those storms have been responsible for more than $1 billion in damages, thousands of injuries, and 84 fatalities.
With tornadoes, planning and practicing specifically how and where you take shelter is a matter of survival.
Here are some tips to keep you and your loved ones safe during a tornado:
Prevention and Practice
Have a tornado plan in place at home so you know where to take shelter in a matter of seconds, and practice a family tornado drill at least once a year.
Flying debris is the greatest danger during a twister, so store protective coverings such as mattresses, sleeping bags, and thick blankets, in or next to your shelter space.
Know the Signs
Tornadoes can occur without warning. Besides seeing an actual wind funnel, here are some things to look and listen for:
- Strong, persistent rotation in the clouds
- Whirling dust or debris on the ground
- Hail or heavy rain followed by either dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift
- A loud, continuous roar or rumble that doesn’t fade in a few seconds like thunder
Know Where to Take Shelter
Determine the best place to take shelter. If you are:
- In a house with a basement – Get in the basement and under some kind of sturdy protection, such as a heavy table or workbench, or cover yourself with a mattress or sleeping bag. Avoid windows. Know where heavy objects are on the floor above and do not shelter underneath them.
- In a house with no basement or an apartment – Go to the lowest floor, small center room like a bathroom or closet, under a stairwell, or in an interior hallway with no windows. Crouch as low as possible to the floor and cover your head with your hands.
- In an office building or skyscraper – Go to an enclosed, windowless area in the center of the building. Stay off the elevators. Crouch down and cover your head.
- In a mobile or manufactured home – Get out. Go to a nearby permanent structure. Most tornadoes can destroy even tied-down mobile homes.
- At school – Go to an interior hall or windowless room. Crouch low, head down, and protect the back of your head with your arms.
- In a car or truck – There is no safe option when caught in a tornado in a vehicle. Seek shelter in a sturdy building, or underground if possible. If you are caught by extreme winds or flying debris, park the vehicle as quickly and safely as possible. Stay in it with your seatbelt on. Put your head down below the windows and cover it with your hands and a blanket, coat, or other cushion if possible. If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, leave your car and lie in that area. Avoid seeking shelter under bridges, which can create deadly traffic hazards while offering little protection against flying debris.
- Outside in the open – Seek shelter in a sturdy building if possible. If you can’t, lie flat and face-down on low ground. Get as far away from trees and vehicles as you can.
What to do After the Tornado
Remain calm and alert, and wait for emergency responders to arrive. Stay away from downed power lines and stay out of damaged houses and buildings. Do not use matches or lighters in case of a natural gas leak.
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