Tornadoes took 41 lives across the United States in 2019, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration reported 1,520 tornadoes, up from 1,126 in 2018.
And for the first three months of 2020, the institute reports 180 tornadoes – including those that killed 25 people on March 3 in and around Nashville, Tennessee.
April and May often produce the most frequent and substantial severe weather in this part of the county, and officials advise everyone to be informed, have a plan and some provisions – and to be aware when conditions are right for severe weather.
Online sources such as preparemetrokc.org, Ready.gov and redcross.org outline the basics and have information for putting together an emergency supplies kit and having a plan for your home, business or church.
Safety officials generally suggest having a good number of supplies – water and some food, a first-aid kit, flashlights and fresh batteries just for starters – in your vehicle and in a secure place in your home for all emergencies.
Officials also recommend having an all-hazards radio (also called a weather radio) and making sure that you have more than one means of getting the word quickly when a severe-weather alert or warning is posted. The Red Cross and others have apps for that.
Emergency managers also underline the need to know the difference between a watch and a warning and therefore knowing when to act.
Tornadoes, for example, usually occur late in the afternoon or early evening. The conditions that create them – warm, humid conditions but overall atmospheric instability – can be forecast and observed hours in advance.
So a tornado watch might be issued at mid-day, would likely cover a wide area – several counties or a few states – and would likely last for hours. It means the conditions are right for tornadoes – and for residents that means look sharp.
The National Weather Service posts a tornado warning when an actual tornado has been detected. That means a trained spotter has seen one or, more often, radar has detected rotation inside a thunderstorm supercell.
A warning is usually fairly short in duration and limited to a much smaller area than a watch. Tornadoes touch down, go up and sometimes touch down again, but the Weather Service usually can at least say minute by minute and city by city where the thunderstorm itself is likely to hit.