Tornadoes and Thunderstorms: What you Should Know

By Breanna James, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

As North Texans, planning is key for the sporadic and ever-changing weather this region brings each season. Legend, and past weather reports say that the time between March and May is storm season, including wretched thunderstorms and destructive tornadoes.

Thunderstorms are caused by moisture, unstable air and lift. Unstable air that is relatively warm and rises rapidly, rain, thunder, lightning, and sometimes even hail occurs. These conditions are similar to spring’s daily weather conditions in North Texas.

Tornadoes are caused by  warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and cool, dry air from Canada. When these two air masses combine, they create a volatility in the atmosphere. Most tornadoes form thunderstorms due to these instabilities.

Many have heard and told severe weather myths and stories. Myths such as, tornadoes cannot strike the same area twice, tornadoes do not strike large cities, and do not cross large bodies of water.

These are all false.

The fact is, these storms can occur whenever atmospheric conditions allow them. When cold weather fronts and hot weather fronts meet, the outcome is unpredictable.

Here is what you need to know to be prepared for these unpredictable situations and keep you and your family safe.

The name of the game before any severe weather situation, is preparation. Tornadoes strike quickly, sometimes without any warning whatsoever, so having pertinent items and a plan is extremely important for you and your family’s safety.

Before a severe thunderstorm or tornado, ensure you have and have done the following:

Make a family communications plan:

  • Have a known storm shelter or safe room, away from windows and doors, preferably as close to the ground and interior of the home as possible.
  • Build an emergency kit. If the weather is too severe, relief crews may take hours, and even days to get to survivors. Furthermore, services such as gas and electricity may be shut off due to inadequate power. This kit should include:
    • Enough food, water, hand warmers, flashlights, and batteries to last for the next 72 hours after the storm.

Stay informed:

  • Have a battery-powered radio ready; listen for and know storm terms.
    • Tornado Watch- Tornadoes are possible, remain alert and stay in tuned to a radio weather station.
    • Tornado Warning- A tornado has been sighted, take shelter immediately.
  • Know how to indicate a tornado by sight:
    • Dark, sometimes green skies
    • Large hail
    • Low-lying clouds
    • Loud roar

As mentioned, seen more so in tornadoes, but thunderstorms as well,  are usually unforeseeable before they hit ground. If caught in a not-so-ideal condition, like outdoors when a severe weather warning sounds, here is what you should do to stay as safe as possible:

  • Find shelter into a stationary vehicle, and buckle-up.
    • Take cover by shielding your head with your hands and covering yourself with a blanket or jacket.
  • If a vehicle is not in sight or is impossible to obtain, find an area preferably lower than the roadway, and take the same precautions with covering your head with your hands and a cushion as mentioned.
  • It is best to stay in a low, flat area.
  • Stay away and take cover from flying debris and brush.

After a thunderstorm:

  • Stay tuned to weather radio stations for further instructions. If power is available, check news stations and weather stations as well.
  • Do wellness checks on family members, neighbors and friends.
  • Evaluate and photograph property damage, if applicable.

After a severe weather situation, take time to think on your severe weather plan. Did it work well with the conditions? Are there any important parts of the plan that need improvement?

If there are any areas that do need improvement, please download Red Cross’ Emergency Apps, and visit Red Cross’s sites on Tornadoes and Thunderstorms for more safety tips.


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