DENVER – A year ago Tuesday, on May 20, an EF5 tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, killing 24 and leaving a 17-mile trail of destruction.
A month later, June 20, will be the anniversary of the 1957 EF5 tornado in Fargo that killed 10 and was part of a family of five tornadoes that wreaked havoc for almost 70 miles, from Buffalo, North Dakota, to Dale, Minnesota. The tornado and its damage were studied extensively by T. Theodore Fujita of the University of Chicago, which led to his later development of the 1-5 F-Scale for ranking tornadoes. (The Fargo tornado was ranked in retrospect.)
Both anniversaries are a poignant reminder of the importance of preparing for tornadoes, point out emergency managers from the North Dakota Division of Emergency Management and from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). North Dakota gets an average of 23 reported tornadoes per year, mostly in June, July and August.
The state’s website (http://www.nd.gov/des/uploads/resources/150/tornadotips.pdf) provides these suggestions for what to do during a tornado:
- In a house with a basement: Avoid windows. Get in the basement and under some kind of sturdy protection (heavy table or work bench), or cover yourself with a mattress or sleeping bag. Know where very heavy objects rest on the floor above (pianos, refrigerators, waterbeds, etc.) and do not go under them. They may fall down through a weakened floor and crush you.
- In a house with no basement, a dorm, or an apartment: Avoid windows. Go to the lowest floor, small center room (like a bathroom or closet), under a stairwell, or in an interior hallway with no windows. Crouch as low as possible to the floor, facing down, and cover your head with your hands. A bath tub may offer a shell of partial protection. Even in an interior room, you should cover yourself with some sort of thick padding (mattress, blankets, etc.), to protect against falling debris in case the roof and ceiling fail.
- In an office building, hospital, or nursing home: Go directly to an enclosed, windowless area in the center of the building -- away from glass. Crouch down and cover your head. Interior stairwells are usually good places to take shelter, and if not crowded, allow you to get to a lower level quickly. Stay off the elevators; you could be trapped in them if the power is lost.
- In a mobile home: Get out! Even if your home is tied down, you are probably safer outside, even if the only alternative is to seek shelter out in the open. Most tornadoes can destroy even tied-down mobile homes; and it is best not to play the low odds that yours will make it. If there is a sturdy permanent building within easy running distance, seek shelter there. Otherwise, lie flat on low ground away from your home, protecting your head. If possible, use open ground away from trees and cars, which can be blown onto you. The only fatality in the Northwood tornado remained in his home.
- At school: Follow the drill! Go to the interior hall or room in an orderly way as you are told. Crouch low, head down, and protect the back of your head with your arms. Stay away from windows and large open rooms like gyms and auditoriums.
- In a car or truck: Vehicles are extremely dangerous in a tornado. If the tornado is visible, far away, and the traffic is light, you may be able to drive out of its path by moving at right angles to the tornado. Otherwise, park the car as quickly and safely as possible -- out of the traffic lanes. Get out and seek shelter in a sturdy building. If in the open country, run to low ground away from any cars which could roll over onto you. Lie flat and face-down, protecting the back of your head with your arms. Avoid seeking shelter under bridges, which can create deadly traffic hazards while offering little protection against flying debris.
- Outside: If possible, seek shelter in a sturdy building. If not, lie flat and face-down on low ground, protecting the back of your head with your arms. Get as far away from trees and cars as you can.
- In a shopping mall or large store: Do not panic. Watch for others. Move as quickly as possible to an interior bathroom, storage room or other small enclosed area, away from windows.
- In a church or theater: Do not panic. If possible, move quickly but orderly to an interior bathroom or hallway, away from windows. Crouch face-down and protect your head with your arms. If there is no time to do that, get under the seats or pews, protecting your head with your arms or hands.
Research shows that most people wait until bad news is confirmed by a second source before taking action. With tornadoes, act first, emergency officials warn. Take shelter yourself, then be the second source that confirms the emergency for others by phone or social media.
FEMA’s Ready.gov website cites a study of tornado damage in Marion, Illinois, that showed half of all tornado-related injuries came after the tornado, from rescue attempts, clean up, and so forth. Almost a third of the injuries came from stepping on nails. Be very careful when entering any damaged structure, and use battery-powered light if possible rather than candles to minimize the danger of fire or explosions.
A timeline of some of the most significant tornadoes to affect the six-state region covered by FEMA’s Denver regional office, with links for more information, is available at http://www.fema.gov/fema-region-8-tornado-timeline.
FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.