A year ago Tuesday, on May 20, an EF5 tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, killing 24 and leaving a 17-mile trail of destruction.
Later this week, May 22, will be the sixth anniversary of the EF3 tornado in Windsor, Colorado, that killed one person, was on the ground for 39 miles and was up to a mile wide.
The twin anniversaries are a poignant reminder of the importance of preparing for tornadoes, point out emergency managers from the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Colorado gets an average of 40 tornadoes per year, which ranks the state ninth in the country for number of tornadoes. The highest number occurs in June, followed by July and May. The worst threat is along the heavily populated Front Range and foothills corridors.
The state’s READYColorado website (https://www.readycolorado.com/hazard/tornado) provides these suggestions for what to do before, during and after a tornado:
• Maintain an emergency kit or check list of emergency items to take with you.
• Develop a family communication plan in case your family is separated.
• Identify a safe shelter location. A basement is best, followed by interior rooms on the lowest level of the building away from windows. Mobile homes are often unsafe in a tornado – identify a neighbor’s house or public shelter where you can go if a tornado warning is issued.
• Obtain a NOAA Weather Radio to receive alerts about impending severe weather.
• Sign up for reverse telephone alerts for your county, and don’t forget to include your cell phone.
• Make sure you have sufficient insurance coverage – including flood insurance, which is separate from your homeowner’s policy.
• Photograph or video the contents of your home in case you need to file a claim.
• Store copies of your important documents in another location, such as a bank safe deposit box.
• Consider building a safe room inside your home.
• Immediately go to your pre-identified safe shelter – there is no time to gather possessions.
• If possible, crouch under a sturdy piece of furniture, such as a table. Cover your head and neck with your hands and arms.
• If you are outside and no other shelter is available, get in a vehicle and drive to shelter if possible. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to outrun a tornado.
• If you must use a vehicle for shelter, keep your seatbelt on, cover your head and keep it below the window level.
• Do not use an overpass or bridge for shelter.
• If no other shelter is available, lie in a low spot and cover your head, but be alert for water filling the location.
• Avoid downed power lines and leaking gas lines – report them to your utility company.
• Watch for broken glass, nails, and other sharp objects.
• Avoid damaged buildings until they are declared safe by officials.
• Notify your family that you are safe – phone lines may be down, so be prepared to send text messages.
• Check property for damage and contact your insurance company to file a claim, if necessary.
Research shows that most people wait until bad news is confirmed by a second source before taking action. With tornadoes, act first, emergency officials warn. Take shelter yourself, then be the second source that confirms the emergency for others by phone or social media.
FEMA’s Ready.gov website cites a study of tornado damage in Marion, Illinois, that showed half of all tornado-related injuries came after the tornado, from rescue attempts, clean up, and so forth. Almost a third of the injuries came from stepping on nails. Be very careful when entering any damaged structure, and use battery-powered light if possible rather than candles to minimize the danger of fire or explosions.
A timeline of some of the most significant tornadoes to affect the six-state region covered by FEMA’s Denver regional office, with links for more information, is available at http://www.fema.gov/fema-region-8-tornado-timeline.