What is a Tornado?
A tornado is a violent windstorm characterized by a twisting, funnel-shaped cloud. It is spawned by a thunderstorm or as a result of severe weather associated with hurricanes. A funnel cloud is formed as cool air overrides a layer of warm air, forcing the warm air to rise rapidly. The damage from a tornado results from high wind velocity and wind blown debris.
When a tornado approaches, you have only a brief amount of time to make life-or-death decisions. Advance planning and quick response are the keys to surviving a tornado.
- Purchase a NOAA Weather Alert radio with an alert feature. When tuned to the proper frequency, these weather radios remain silent until a weather emergency occurs. Once they pick up the alarm tone, they will begin broadcasting emergency weather information so that citizens can protect themselves and their property. Some models of the NOAA weather radio incorporate the Specific Area Message Encoder technology, allowing users to target only those warnings that affect their immediate geographic area.
Receive Severe Weather Alerts:
Alert Pinellas: An emergency notification service. It is FREE to our residents and will give us multiple ways to get the word to you whenever an urgent situation arises. It is an important tool used by Pinellas County public officials to notify citizens within Pinellas County. You must sign up to receive notifications via the phone, text or email. This service provides information on urgent situations such as tornado and other severe weather, water pipe breaks, boil water notices, active shooter etc. County officials can target certain areas of the county or send notifications to the entire county.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other private vendors also offer weather alert apps available for smart phones that send out similar alert tones.
Other notification systems to be aware of:
- CodeRED: This national system can access alerts issued by authorized public safety officials anywhere in North America for local emergencies, NWS weather warnings and missing person alerts. Locally, Pinellas County uses this system for “Alert Pinellas” to send local alerts to Pinellas County citizens.
- Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). This is a national system used to send critical emergency information from the President (national emergencies), National Weather Service (weather warnings), local Emergency Management (evacuations, etc.) and Law Enforcement (Amber Alerts). Most new phones cell phones are equipped with the WEA system. Residents should contact their cell service provider to see if their phone is equipped or, if they receive Amber Alerts then they know they are equipped with Wireless Emergency alert system capability.
- Conduct tornado drills with your family each year. Designate an area in the home to serve as your safe area, and practice having all family members assemble there in response to a mock tornado warning. Your safe room should be a small interior room with stout walls, such as a bathroom or closet, on the ground floor away from windows.
- Develop an emergency communications plan in case family members are separated from one another when a tornado warning goes into effect. Designate an adult (even a friend or relative who lives out of the area) to serve as the family coordinator. Instruct everyone in the family to contact this coordinator in a weather emergency for instructions on what to do during the storm and where to reassemble after the emergency has passed.
- Be alert to changing weather conditions.
- Have an emergency weather plan in place.
- Rehearse your contingency plans periodically.
- Know where to go when a tornado threatens.
Know the difference between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning:
- Tornado Watch: Issued by the National Weather Service when tornadoes are possible in your area. You should remain alert for approaching storms. Remind family members of where the safe areas are within your home, and carefully monitor radio or television reports for further developments.
- Tornado Warning: Indicates that a tornado has been sighted in your area, or is indicated on weather radar. You should proceed to safe shelter immediately.
When a Tornado Warning goes in effect, put your safety plans in action.
- At home: Have all family members proceed to your safe area immediately. If you have designated a bathroom as your safe area, get into the bathtub and cover yourself with a couch cushion. This will provide you with protection on all sides. If there are no downstairs bathrooms, and closets are inaccessible, a hallway may be your next best area of refuge. As a last resort, tip over a heavy piece of furniture, such as a couch or heavy chair, move it to the center of the room and take cover underneath.
- In a mobile home: Mobile homes offer poor resistance to tornado winds; hurricane straps or other tie-downs will not protect a mobile home from the wind gusts associated with tornadoes. You should plan on leaving your mobile home to seek shelter elsewhere. Most mobile home communities have a recreational building or laundry room which could offer safe haven. As a last resort, seek refuge in a ditch or culvert or other low lying area of ground.
- In your automobile: Motor vehicles are easily overturned by tornado winds. Leave your vehicle and seek shelter in a sturdy building. As a last resort, seek shelter in a ditch or culvert. Do not try to outrun or outmaneuver a tornado! Use the time to seek appropriate shelter outside your vehicle.
- In office building, hotels, shopping centers: Take shelter in an interior hallway on a lower floor. A closet, bathroom or other small room with short, stout walls will give some protection from collapse and flying debris. Otherwise, get under heavy furniture and stay away from windows. Many tornado deaths have occurred in large buildings due to the collapse of a roof or wide span wall. A corner area, away from a window, is safer than the middle of a wide span wall.
- In schools: All public schools have reliable ways to monitor tornado watches and warnings, and each school has a designated emergency plan that will lead pupils and faculty to designated safe areas. Teachers should lead students out of gyms, auditoriums and portable classrooms to interior rooms and hallways on ground level floors. Students should stay away from glass, both in windows and doors. They should crouch down and seek shelter under a classroom desk, if possible. Otherwise, they should make themselves as small as possible, being sure to cover the head.
- In theaters, warehouses, auditoriums: Move quickly to a small interior room such as a rest room or closet. Otherwise, evacuate these buildings and seek shelter in nearby sturdy buildings, if time permits.
- Out in open country: When severe weather approaches, seek inside shelter immediately. The chances of encountering falling trees, downed power lines and lightning is far greater than encountering a tornado itself. If a tornado approaches, lie flat in the nearest depression, such as a culvert or ditch, and cover your head with your arms.
Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center
Department of Emergency Management
During an emergency activation call the
Citizen Information Center at (727) 464-4333.