Severe Weather Awareness Week: Preparing for the threat of tornadoes

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We’ve all heard the sirens, and we know what they mean.

But just what is a tornado, and what’s the best thing to do when you know there is a threat? 

Per the National Weather Service, a tornado is defined as a violently rotating column of air that comes in contact with the ground. If the circulation is not on the ground, then it is defined as a funnel cloud.

Tornadoes descend from thunderstorms.and can have varying wind speeds. They can have wind speeds anywhere from 65 mph to 318 mph (that’s the highest tornado wind speed ever recorded!)

They can cause widespread destruction and can even endanger lives. We’ve seen this time and time again in the news, and the threat tends to come back to Iowa every late spring and summer.

Like with severe thunderstorms, a tornado watch is issued when conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. This usually covers several counties or even states. NOTE: Sometimes tornado watches are issued when it seems like it’s sunny and quiet outside. Remember, the weather can change rapidly.

If a tornado has been spotted on the ground or has been detected by doppler radar, a tornado warning will be issued.These warnings mean a threat for a tornado is imminent. Typically tornado warnings last no more than 45 minutes. This means you need to seek shelter now.

Do you know what to do for seeking shelter during a tornado warning? Here are some suggestions from the National Weather Service. 

If you are in a home or small business:
Go to the basement or a small interior room such as a closet, bathroom or interior hallway without windows on the lowest level. Put as many walls between yourself and the outside as possible. If possible, get under something sturdy, such as a heavy table, or use a mattress to protect yourself from flying debris. If available, put on a bicycle or motorcycle helmet to protect yourself from head injuries. Do not attempt to go outside.

If you are in a large business, school, hospital, shopping center or factory:
Go to the designated shelter area. If a shelter area is not available, the best place is to go to an interior hallway on the lowest level. Stay away from the structurally weaker portions of buildings, such as windows and rooms with expansive roofs, which are more likely to collapse when tornadoes strike. 

If you are in a mobile home:
Get out and take shelter in a sturdy building or storm shelter. If there is not one nearby, take shelter in the most interior room that has no windows, such as an interior bathroom or closet. If there is an immediate threat of a tornado (you see one or Local 5 meteorologists say one is nearby), go to the most interior room. You should not go outdoors if a tornado is visible.

If you are caught in a vehicle:
Get out and into a sturdy shelter. If one is not available nearby, get to a low spot and cover your head from flying debris. Do not take cover under an overpass as this does not provide adequate shelter during a tornado and can cause increased wind speeds due to a tunneling effect.

Do you know how to get tornado warnings? Download our WeAreIowa app to get them sent straight to your phone.

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Chief Meteorologist Brad Edwards

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Meteorologist Brandon Lawrence

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Local 5 Weather

Chief Meteorologist Brad Edwards

Meteorologist Taylor Kanost

Meteorologist Brandon Lawrence

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