Storm Team 4

Protect Yourself During Severe Weather: What to Do During a Tornado Watch and Warning

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The tri-state area is no stranger to severe weather and residents should know how to stay safe during potentially life-threatening weather events.

Scroll for a complete guide on what you should know about tornadoes and how to protect yourself and loved ones. For the latest Storm Team 4 weather reports, click here.

The National Weather Service defines a tornado as a "violently rotating column of air extending from the base of a thunderstorm down to the ground." According to the NWS, these weather phenomena are capable of obliterating well-made structures, uprooting trees, and hurling objects through the air like deadly missiles.

Additionally, tornadoes can happen anytime and anywhere.

But, what is exactly is the difference between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning issued by the National Weather Service?

"Be Prepared! Tornadoes are possible in and near the watch area. Review and discuss your emergency plans and check supplies and your safe room. Be ready to act quickly if a warning is issued or you suspect a tornado is approaching. Acting early helps to save lives! Watches are issued by the Storm Prediction Center for counties where tornadoes may occur. The watch area is typically large, covering numerous counties or even states," according to the National Weather Service.

"Take Action! A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. There is imminent danger to life and property," the National Weather Service says, adding that one should "move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building. Avoid windows. If in a mobile home, a vehicle, or outdoors, move to the closest substantial shelter and protect yourself from flying debris."

These warnings are issued by your local forecast office and typically deal with a much smaller area (around the size of a city or small county) that may be impacted by a tornado identified by a forecaster on radar or by a trained spotter/law enforcement official who is watching the storm., a national public service campaign launched in 2003 to educate on how prepare for, respond to and mitigate natural and man-made disasters emergencies, lists the steps one should take if under a tornado or severe weather warning.

  • Pay attention to EAS, NOAA Weather Radio, or local alerting systems for current emergency information and instructions.
  • Go to a safe shelter immediately, such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar or a small interior room on the lowest level of a sturdy building.
  • Stay away from windows, doors, and outside walls.
  • Do not go under an overpass or bridge. You’re safer in a low, flat location.
  • Watch out for flying debris that can cause injury or death.
  • Protect yourself by covering your head or neck with your arms and putting materials such as furniture and blankets around or on top of you.
  • If you can’t stay at home, make plans to go to a public shelter. Review the CDC's guidelines for going to a public disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Staying informed during a weather emergency is extremely important. However, being prepared prior to an emergency is just as essential. suggests:

  • Know your area’s tornado risk. The Midwest and the Southeast regions of the United States have a greater risk for tornadoes. However, they have been reported in all of the states.
  • Know the signs of a tornado, including a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud, an approaching cloud of debris, or a loud roar like a freight train.
  • Sign up for your community’s warning system. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and NOAA Weather Radio also provide emergency alerts. If you have a community siren, become familiar with its warning tone.
  • Pay attention to local weather reports. For the latest Storm Team 4 weather reports, click here. 
  • Identify and practice going to a safe shelter such as a safe room built using FEMA criteria or a storm shelter built to ICC 500 standards. If you do not have a safe room or storm shelter, says that the next best protection is a small, interior, windowless room or basement on the lowest level of a sturdy building.
  • Consider Overlapping Hazards such as Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Review the CDC's guidelines for going to a public disaster shelter during the pandemic.
  • Plan for your pet. Pets are an important member of your family, and therefore they also need to be included in your family’s emergency plan.
  • Prepare for long-term stay at home or sheltering in place by having emergency supplies (including batteries, a first aid kit, flashlight, etc.), cleaning supplies, non-perishable foodswater, medical supplies and necessary medication.

One's response to the aftermath of a tornado, is just as critical in ensuring one's safety.

Federal authorities suggest:

  • Save phone calls for emergencies. Instead use text messaging or social media to communicate with family and friends.
  • Pay attention to EAS, NOAA Weather Radio, and local authorities for updated information.
  • Stay away from fallen or broken power/utility lines.
  • Contact your healthcare provider if you are unwell and need medical attention. However, wait for further care instructions and continue to shelter in place.
  • Wear appropriate gear during clean-up such as thick-soled shoes, long pants, and work gloves, use appropriate face coverings or masks if cleaning specific debris such as mold.

Track live radar and see the latest timing and potential impacts from Ida here.

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