Watch for warning signs during tornado season

  • Published
  • Emergency Management Office, 88th Air Base Wing

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, OH -- It’s that time of year again. As warmer weather slowly approaches, it’s important to brush up on your severe weather and tornado knowledge.

Tornadoes are classified using the Enhanced Fujita scale from EF0 to EF5. An EF0 can produce light damage with winds of 40-71 mph, while an EF5 is a violent tornado with incredible damage and winds between 260 and 318 mph. Regardless of EF scale, any tornado has the ability to cause severe damage to homes and facilities.

Pay close attention to whether you are under a tornado watch or warning. A tornado watch means a tornado is possible due to the air temperature and weather. A tornado warning goes out when a tornado has been spotted or detected by radar.

A good example for a watch versus warning is tacos. Having all the ingredients for tacos could be considered a taco watch. However, once you have an actual taco, we could say that’s a taco warning.

During a tornado, everyone knows they need to get to either a lower level or interior room for safety. But do you know what to do if you aren’t at home when severe weather hits?

If you’re caught on the road during a tornado warning, you may think that getting under a bridge or overpass is the answer. Unfortunately, bridges and overpasses can be among the worst places to seek shelter. Due to the narrow opening under both, wind speeds can actually increase, leading to a higher risk of flying debris.

If you can, pull your vehicle over somewhere safe and get to a hardened facility. If you don’t have that option, pull over and park.

Buckle your seat belt and put your head down below window level, covering yourself with a blanket, if possible. If you can safely get to a lower area than the road, exit your car and lie in that area, using your hands to cover your head.

If you’re able to find a building such as a store or restaurant, get inside and stick to the inner-most rooms. It’s also a good idea to seek shelter in a large cooler. The thick metal walls will provide extra protection from flying debris. (During the 2011 EF-5 tornado in Joplin, Missouri, a group of people survived by taking shelter in a Pizza Hut cooler).

It’s important for those living in tornado-prone areas to be ready and proactive when it comes to bad weather. Create a plan with your family so you know where to go in your home during severe weather.

When there is an increased risk of severe weather, pay attention to local news channels. They can tell you whether you are under a tornado watch or warning, and they will let you know which counties are affected.

Being aware of your surroundings and knowing what to do during severe weather could save your life. For more information, visit or contact your local emergency management representative.