Plan Now What To Do During A Tornado Warning

One of the homes destroyed by a category EF-4 tornado in Lee County on March 3, 2019. (Photo courtesy of the National Weather Service)

Last month, twenty-three people were killed when a mile-wide tornado struck Lee County, east of Montgomery. Damage from the EF-4 class tornado stretched for 24 miles, and news reports showed empty concrete slabs next to swimming pools where brick houses once stood. At least four other tornadoes hit Alabama the same day.

The bad news is that ‘tornado season’ has just begun.

Hartselle Fire Chief Daryl Fox urges residents to be ready should a tornado or severe storm strike our area. “I encourage every family to have an emergency plan,” he says.”What will you do if a violent storm or tornado is spotted near your home?”

Tornado Warning vs Watch

Advanced warning that a tornado is approaching your area can give you the time needed to move to a safe place. The National Weather Service (NWS) issues tornado alerts when weather conditions mean that tornadoes are more likely. In case of a tornado watch, tune in to local weather reports and check alert notifications; review your plan to get to a safe location quickly; charge your cell phone in case the power goes out; and call anyone who may need assistance.

In the case of a tornado warning, you should take action immediately to move to a safe location.

Even if you have been through a tornado warning in the past without any damage, you should always take immediate action when a tornado warning is issued or you hear tornado sirens.

Forecasters do their best to predict storms, however, tornadoes occasionally develop without detection, and those that are spotted are unpredictable. Never rely solely on weather forecasters and authorities to keep you and your family safe; in stormy weather stay aware of conditions where you are.

Make Decisions Now To Stay Safe Later

Do not wait for a tornado warning to decide where you and your family will seek protection, Fox urges. Having a plan for how and where you will take cover in case of a storm – and practicing your plan – may save lives, especially if you have children.

When inclement weather approaches, know how you will stay informed; news and alerts will help you know when to take action.

  • Monitor local weather reports.
  • On Twitter or Facebook, follow the Hartselle Police Department (@HartsellePD) or Morgan County Emergency Management Agency (@morgancoema) for alerts.
  • Consider buying a NOAA Weather Radio, which receives broadcast alerts directly from NWS.
  • In case of a power outage, have extra batteries, a battery-operated radio, and keep your cell phone charged.

Decide where you will take cover at every place you spend a lot of time, including your home, work and place of worship.

As the images from the Lee County tornadoes illustrate, many homes and buildings could be completely destroyed if hit directly by an EF-3, EF-4 or EF-5 category tornado. If you spend time in locations that do not offer adequate protection, such as a mobile home or an open floorplan house, office, gym or retail store, plan ahead and be ready to move to a different location if needed.

If a tornado watch has been issued and school is not in session, the storm shelter at Hartselle High School on Bethel Road will be opened to the public. Generally, school officials have advance warning of a watch being issued, and try to let school out at least an hour in advance so that the school is clear of students. Local authorities issue media alerts when the shelter at the high school is open.

If you decide to stay where you are, in a sturdy building there may be areas which may provide protection in the event of a lower-grade tornado. A key thing to remember, says Fox, is to keep as many floors and walls between you and the storm as possible.

Plan to go to a small interior, windowless room, such as a closet or bathroom. This room should be on the lowest level of the building, and underground if possible. Protect yourself from potential falling or wind-borne debris with a mattress, cushions, sleeping bag or blanket.

In the event a tornado actually hits your location, use the tornado drill position taught for decades in schools: kneel down on your knees, bend over into a ball, and cover your head and neck with your arms.

As always, if your power goes out, call Hartselle Utilities at (256) 773-3340 (after hours: (256) 773-2533). Don’t assume that ‘someone else’ has called, or that we already know. Phone calls help us pinpoint exact locations of outages, which helps to restore power as quickly as possible.