WeatherBug Schools Classroom Connections
Special Edition: Tornadoes— May 2011

Dear Educator,

Tornadoes are arguably Mother Nature's most violent storms. Their winds are powerful and can sometimes reach 250 miles per hour. The sheer force is unstoppable and can rip buildings and homes to shreds, uproot trees and hurl cars through the air. As a matter of fact, three out of every four tornadoes occur in the United States.

In April 2011, we saw a record number of tornadoes rip across the southern United States–178 tornadoes in one day. On May 22, 2011, Joplin, Mo., experienced the deadliest tornado in more than 60 years. The EF4 tornado reached up to 3/4 of a mile in width, with winds of up to 198 miles per hour. It left a deadly path that was almost six miles long–thousands of structures were flattened, including a hospital and a school.

View this month's video lesson in Windows Media PlayerIn this month's Classroom Connections video lesson, WeatherBug Meteorologist Bay Scroggins teaches us the science of how tornadoes are formed and what you can do to stay safe from them. You can view the video in Windows Media Player or in QuickTime. (Download tip: since these video files are rather large, right-click on the video and save the video to your desktop and then play it from there. It may take several minutes depending on your connection speed).


Know the difference between a watch and warning:

A TORNADO WATCH means tornadoes are possible in your area. Stay tuned to the radio or television news.

A TORNADO WARNING means a tornado is either on the ground or has been detected by Doppler radar. Seek shelter immediately!

NOAA recommends the following tornado safety procedures:

  • At school: Follow the drill! Go to the interior hall or room in an orderly way as you are told. Crouch low, head down and protect the back of your head with your arms. Stay away from windows and large open rooms like gyms and auditoriums.
  • In a house with a basement: Avoid windows. Get in the basement and under some kind of sturdy protection (heavy table or work bench), or cover yourself with a mattress or sleeping bag. 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 a house with no basement, a dorm, or an apartment: Avoid windows. 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, facing down; and cover your head with your hands. A bath tub may offer a shell of partial protection. Even in an interior room, you should cover yourself with some sort of thick padding (mattress, blankets, etc.), to protect against falling debris in case the roof and ceiling fail.
  • In an office building, hospital, nursing home or skyscraper: Go directly to an enclosed, windowless area in the center of the building -- away from glass and on the lowest floor possible. Then, crouch down and cover your head. Interior stairwells are usually good places to take shelter, and if not crowded, allow you to get to a lower level quickly. Stay off the elevators; you could be trapped in them if the power is lost.
  • In a mobile home: Get out! Even if your home is tied down, you are probably safer outside, even if the only alternative is to seek shelter out in the open. Most tornadoes can destroy even tied-down mobile homes; and it is best not to play the odds that yours will make it. If your community has a tornado shelter, go there fast. If there is a sturdy permanent building within running distance, seek shelter there. Otherwise, lie flat on low ground away from your home, protecting your head. If possible, use open ground away from trees and cars, which can be blown onto you.
  • In a car or truck: Vehicles are extremely dangerous in a tornado. If the tornado is visible, far away, and the traffic is light, you may be able to drive out of its path by moving at right angles to the tornado. Otherwise, park the car as quickly and safely as possible -- out of the traffic lanes. [It is safer to get the car out of mud later if necessary than to cause a crash.] Get out and seek shelter in a sturdy building. If in the open country, run to low ground away from any cars, which may roll over on you. Lie flat and face-down, protecting the back of your head with your arms. Avoid seeking shelter under bridges, which can create deadly traffic hazards while offering little protection against flying debris.
  • In the open outdoors: If possible, seek shelter in a sturdy building. If not, lie flat and face-down on low ground, protecting the back of your head with your arms. Get as far away from trees and cars as you can; they may be blown onto you in a tornado.
  • In a shopping mall or large store: Do not panic. Watch for others. Move as quickly as possible to an interior bathroom, storage room or other small enclosed area, away from windows.
  • In a church or theater: Do not panic. If possible, move quickly but orderly to an interior bathroom or hallway, away from windows. Crouch face-down and protect your head with your arms. If there is no time to do that, get under the seats or pews, protecting your head with your arms or hands.

Knowing what to do can be critical in the event of a tornado and/or severe weather. Make sure you pay attention to the weather and use WeatherBug tools to receive the latest watches and warnings. You can also listen to the radio, the TV or a NOAA radio to receive alerts. Over the years, tornado warning times have increased signifigantly, but one still needs to be vigilant in order to stay safe.

WeatherBug Dangerous Thunderstorm Alerts (WDTA) were created to provide advanced notification of the increased threat of severe weather moving into an identified area, see video for more information. WDTA's provided an average advanced alert advantage of 13 Minutes in the storms analyzed for April 2011. WDTA's augment National Weather Service watches and warnings for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.

Please review the video and the tornado safety tips with your class and please be safe!


The WeatherBug Schools Team

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