Unseasonably warm days like those we had in late January are nice, but they are also worrisome to Kentuckians who have learned that warm winters and deadly tornadoes can go hand in hand.
We know that the killer tornadoes and storms that claimed 22 Kentucky lives and cut a mile-wide swath through areas of Morgan, Johnson, Martin, Lawrence and other counties in East Kentucky on March 2, 2012, occurred during a warmer-than-normal Kentucky winter on a day when warm and cold air were moving through the state. Tornado outbreaks have also hit West Kentucky in recent years.
So it is not surprising that many Kentuckians waited with bated breath for severe storms to follow as record high and near-record high temperatures plummeted into the 30s and 20s early last week. Tornado warnings were issued early on Jan. 29 for Missouri and then later in the day in states further east including Kentucky. Threats of severe storms and possible tornadoes extended over an even larger area as far north as Chicago, east toward West Virginia, and south to Alabama and Louisiana.
Some, including a meteorologist interviewed by Reuters for a story on Jan. 29’s approaching storms, say these threats are unusual. Maybe so, for most places. Still, given the history as of late for our state, I think it is better to be safe—i.e, prepared—than sorry.
That is why I logged on to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) emergency preparedness site at www. ready.gov last week and looked up information on how to best prepare before a tornado hits. You can find the same information online at www.ready.gov/tornadoes, along with a link on the page to “Pledge to Prepare” for dangerous weather events. But, for those of us who still like to read off paper, I will share FEMA’s advice right here.
Before a tornado hits, it may not be windy at all, according to FEMA. “The wind may die down and the air may become very still,” it says. But that doesn’t mean that a tornado is not out there, usually near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm that helped create it. To prepare, FEMA recommends the following:
• Build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan. FEMA recommends that an emergency kit include a first aid kit, a gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, three-day supply of non-perishable food, battery powered or hand crank radio, flashlight, a whistle to call for help, dust masks, wet naps and garbage bags, a wrench to turn off utilities and a can opener for canned food.
• Listen to a weather radio or commercial radio or TV for updated information. Follow local emergency management’s instruction.
• Look for danger signs in the sky: Dark, often greenish sky; large hail; a large dark, low-lying cloud (it might be rotating), a loud roar similar to a freight train.
• If any danger sign is evident, take shelter immediately.
FEMA also shares these “quick facts” about tornadoes:
• They can strike quickly with no warning.
• They may appear nearly transparent until dust or debris are picked up or a cloud forms in the funnel.
• Tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3 and 9 p.m., but can occur anytime.
You are also advised to know the difference between a tornado warning and a watch. These terms are easy to get switched around, so here’s a refresher:
• Tornado watch. This means that tornadoes are possible. Remain alert for approaching storms. Watch the sky, and stay tuned to radio or TV for information and instruction.
• Tornado warning! A tornado has been sighted or indicated by radar. Take shelter now in a safe structure, preferably on the lowest floor of the house, in a room with no windows and no exterior walls. Bring a blanket or couch cushion to cover yourself and your head. Do the same for children or others with you. Cover your head with your hands if nothing else is available. Remain under cover until the threat has passed.