Seeking Shelter: How To Stay Safe This Storm Season

Managing Editor
The Voice-Tribune

Adam Kleinert felt like a bundle of nerves as he watched television reports show live coverage of an enormous tornado – at least a mile wide – rip through parts of Oklahoma City, devastating the suburb of Moore, on May 20.

The Henryville, Ind., resident watched in horror as aerial images showed debris-laden streets, annihilated neighborhoods, piles of rubble where rescuers dug, hoping to find signs of life amidst the twisted metal and toppled walls.

Kevin Harned.

Kevin Harned.

According to the National Weather Service, the tornado touched down at 2:56 p.m., 16 minutes after the first warning was issued, and traveled 20 miles, a journey of terror that lasted 40 minutes.

Reporters tried to articulate the scene to viewers, often faltering with emotion, particularly when word broke that the tornado had struck two schools: Plaza Towers and Briarwood elementaries.

Watching those reports was difficult for Kleinert, too.  He and his family survived the EF-4 tornado when it slammed into Henryville on March 2, 2012. But the memories remain fresh.

The town, which suffered extensive damage, is thriving as it rebuilds, said Kleinert, but watching Oklahoma deal with their tragedy has made “everybody hold each other a little closer now.  I think right now everyone is cautious.”

Some Henryville residents are shaken up and having an increasingly difficult time now that it’s clear “tornado season” has begun, said Kleinert. The fear can be paralyzing, particularly for children. “I have to be very sensitive with how I talk to my kids (about tornados),” he said. “I think everybody is watching the news a little bit closer. You pay attention a little more. Really, that’s about all you can do. You don’t have any control over (the weather).”

But, you do have control over how to react to tragedy, said Kleinert, who headed up a project to raise funds for his hometown via a calendar featuring faces and stories from Henryville. “A lot of us are watching and asking, ‘What can we do here? What can we do for Oklahoma?’”

Last year, Henryville was on the receiving end of support from around the country. Now, the small town is mobilizing to give support to storm victims in Oklahoma.

Henryville High School Principal Troy Albert is giving residents that answer by organizing a trip to Moore as soon as the school year ends. Area pastors are collecting money for the Oklahoma suburb. Still others are sending supplies just as others did for them 14 months ago.

WAVE 3 Chief Meteorologist Kevin Harned will never forget the Henryville tornado. “That’s a tough one to think about. We feel like a lot of things went right on that day, but one life lost is too many. Anyone involved in that (tornado) warning process has to ask ‘What could we have done better?’”

That’s part of the reason Harned continues to chase tornados. “It’s really rewarding and educational when you can see it happen in front of your eyes. It brings the classroom to life,” he said. “Every day we get better at what we do, but there are many of us who continue to learn so that we can understand how the atmosphere works. The climate is always changing. That provides a variable that is not constant.”

And that remains the biggest challenge, Harned said.

Before Moore was nailed by the massive tornado, “the storm didn’t look all that impressive,” he said. “Even the best storm chasers who were around that day chose not to chase the storm. What that proves is in an environment where storms can grow, anything can happen – and it happens fast.”

So what can the average person do to remain safe? “Before severe weather happens, you have to have a plan,” Harned said. Our job – no matter how bad it is – we (meteorologists) have to be calm. What we have to do is deliver the information in such a way that it is understandable to our viewers. The public’s job is to have a plan. Be aware. Keep up with the weather. Know what’s going to happen.”

How you can help Oklahoma.

The Salvation Army is organizing mobile kitchens capable of serving 2,500 people a day and sending them into the hardest-hit areas in central Oklahoma. Donate by going to www.salvationarmyusa.org or make a $10 donation using your phone by texting STORM to 80888.

The American Red Cross has set up shelters in communities across The Plains. Donate by going to www.redcross.org/or make a $10 donation using your phone by texting
REDCROSS to 90999.

Sources: National Weather Service

Tornado Facts

• A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from a cumuliform cloud, such as a thunderstorm, to the ground.
• Tornadoes may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms within the funnel. The average tornado moves from southwest to northeast, but tornadoes can move in any direction and can suddenly change their direction of motion.
• The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 mph but may vary from nearly stationary to 70 mph.
• The strongest tornadoes have rotating winds of more than 200 mph.
• Tornadoes can accompany tropical storms and hurricanes as they move onto land.
• Waterspouts are tornadoes that form over warm water. Water spouts can move onshore and cause damage to coastal areas.

Tornado Fiction and Fact

Lakes, rivers, and mountains protect areas from tornadoes.

No geographic location is safe from tornadoes. A tornado near Yellowstone National Park left a path of destruction up and down a 10,000 foot mountain.

A tornado causes buildings to “explode” as the tornado passes overhead.

Violent winds and debris slamming into buildings cause the most structural damage.

Open windows before a tornado approaches to equalize pressure and minimize damage.

Virtually all buildings leak. Leave the windows closed. Take shelter immediately. An underground shelter, basement or safe room are the safest places. If none of those options are available, go to a windowless interior room or hallway.

Highway overpasses provide safe shelter from tornadoes.

The area under a highway overpass is very dangerous in a tornado. If you are in a vehicle, you should immediately seek shelter in a sturdy building. As a last resort, you can either: stay in the car with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows, covering with your hands and a blanket if possible, OR if you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, exit your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands. Your choice should be driven by your specific circumstances.

It is safe to take shelter in the bathroom, hallway, or closet of a mobile home.

Mobile homes are not safe during tornadoes! Abandon your mobile home to seek shelter in a sturdy building immediately. If you live in a mobile home, ensure you have a plan in place that identifies the closest sturdy buildings.

What to Listen for…

Tornado Watch
NWS meteorologists have determined that tornadoes are possible in your area. Remain alert for approaching storms. Know if your location is in the watch area by listening to NOAA Weather Radio, visiting www.weather.gov or by tuning into your favorite radio or television weather information broadcast stations. SEVERE THUNDERSTORM Watch
NWS meteorologists have determined that severe thunderstorms are likely to occur in your area. Watch the sky and stay tuned for NWS warnings.Tornado WARNING
NWS meteorologists have determined that a tornado is occurring, or likely to occur within minutes, in the specified area. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property.SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING
NWS meteorologists have determined that a severe thunderstorm is occurring or likely to occur. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property.

Tornado Safety Rules 

•The safest place to be is an underground shelter, basement, or safe room.
•If no underground shelter or safe room is available, a small, windowless interior room or hallway on the lowest level of a sturdy building is the safest alternative.
•Mobile homes are not safe during tornadoes. Abandon mobile homes and go to the nearest sturdy building or shelter immediately.
•If you are caught outdoors, seek shelter in a basement, shelter or sturdy building. If you cannot quickly walk to a shelter:
•Immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter.
•If flying debris occurs while you are driving, pull over and park. Now you have the following options as a last resort:
-Stay in your vehicle with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows, covering with your hands and a blanket if possible.
– If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, exit your car, and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands.
• Your choice should be driven by your specific circumstances.

Be Ready Year Round
•Tornadoes can occur at any time of day, any day of the year.
•Have a plan of action before severe weather threatens. You need to respond quickly when a warning is issued or a tornado is spotted.
•When conditions are warm, humid, and windy, or skies are threatening, monitor for severe weather watches and warnings by listening to NOAA Weather Radio, logging onto weather.gov or tuning into your favorite television or radio weather information source.