I was devastated to hear about the tornadoes that plowed through Tennessee earlier this week. At the time of writing, 22 fatalities were confirmed. Downtown Nashville was significantly impacted, and my mind vectored right back to the tornado that plowed through Atlanta over a decade ago. In both cases, nocturnal tornadic activity happened. As an expert on weather-related topics, I often get asked what should people do when facing the prospect of tornadoes as most people are sleeping. Here are some recommendations.
NASHVILLE, TN – MARCH 03: General view of a mural on heavily damaged The Basement East in the East … [+]
Unfortunately, many people will perceive the tornadoes in Tennessee to have “come out of nowhere.” This statement is commonly uttered in the hours and days after tornadic events. Candidly, it is a true statement if you were not aware of the potential for severe weather or didn’t get the messages. However, the National Weather Service (NWS) -Nashville had been warning through conventional formats and on social media about the possibility of severe weather. The graphic below shows a tweet from them on Monday afternoon. It indicates the possibility of severe weather, including tornadoes. While the probability was low, it wasn’t “zero” so provided enough information to at least be “weather-aware” for the evening. The 2:35 pm CST NWS forecast discussion on Monday offered additional mentions of tornadic activity:
Even though most of the instability is elevated, there still may be some damaging winds that can make their way to the surface with the developing MCS that moves through the area late this evening and overnight. Low level helicity and shear increased slightly with 12Z models, and most CAMs, so can not rule out a tornado or two tonight. Main focus remains the hail threat and the damaging wind threat from later this evening through most of the overnight hours.
Tweet from NWS Nashville on Monday afternoon about the possibility of severe weather.
NWS Nashville on Twitter
Which brings me to the first recommendation. Before turning in for the evening, I recommend making it a habit to have a personal weather assessment in mind. This may be as simple as checking your local evening weathercast or browsing a credible weather website. An important addendum to this recommendation is to be sure to have some type “alert system” in your home for weather-related hazards. There are a host of options including NOAA weather radios, the Wireless Emergency Alert system on your cellphone, a weather/emergency management App (I use ReadyGA, FEMA and Red Cross Tornado Apps), or a call alert system like WeatherCall.
Multiple ways to receive alerts and warnings
I emphasize this last point because there were several complaints on social media about not hearing tornado sirens until it was too late with the Tennessee storms. It is important to understand something that I have written about previously in Forbes. Tornado sirens are designed to be an “outdoor” warning system. They are not mean to be your alert system if you are in the house or asleep. Here’s what the NOAA website says about sirens:
Sirens are an outdoor warning system designed only to alert those who are outside that something dangerous is approaching.
My other recommendations fall into the category of “common sense,” but we often forget about them due to the rhythm of life. For example, many households probably have a “fire plan” that has been studied and practiced. I recommend a “storm plan” too. I found the information below on NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center website, and it is quite useful:
At home, have a family tornado plan in place, based on the kind of dwelling you live in and the safety tips below. Know where you can take shelter in a matter of seconds, and practice a family tornado drill at least once a year. Have a pre-determined place to meet after a disaster. Flying debris is the greatest danger in tornadoes; so store protective coverings (e.g., mattress, sleeping bags, thick blankets, etc) in or next to your shelter space, ready to use on a few seconds’ notice. When a tornado watch is issued, think about the drill and check to make sure all your safety supplies are handy. Turn on local TV, radio or NOAA Weather Radio and stay alert for warnings. Forget about the old notion of opening windows to equalize pressure; the tornado will blast open the windows for you!
Another recommendation relevant to the “connected” age is to be sure cellphones or tablets are charged and have ample supplemental charging capabilities
Here is a checklist of little things that you can do right now to improve your nocturnal storm readiness:
Other tips can be found at this link.