Be prepared: Winter Tornado Season

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. --

The winter tornado season in central Florida usually peaks from February to early April. However, our winter tornadoes can strike as early as December.

The 2017-2018 winter severe weather season in east central Florida is predicted to be below normal.  Fewer and weaker tornadoes than usual are expected. But it only takes one, so be prepared.

A weak La Niña formed in October and is expected to persist through the winter. A La Niña is below average water temperature in the eastern and central equatorial Pacific. It causes the jet stream to stay further north than normal, guiding winter storms away from Florida and causing the storms that make it to Florida to be weaker than normal. Fewer and weaker storms mean fewer and weaker tornadoes.

East central Florida has been fortunate that the past ten winters had few tornadoes. However, this period of calmer weather may lull people into complacency. Newer residents may not even know that our worst tornadoes occur during the winter months. The worst tornado outbreak recorded in east central Florida was in February 1998; 42 people were killed in one night. 

Even if the current season ends up with fewer than average tornadoes, as we learned with Hurricane Irma, it only takes one bad weather event to disrupt our lives.

The following is a 2-step process for tornado safety:

STEP-1 -- Have A Plan: Identify the safest room in your building and ensure everyone knows it. This applies at both home and at work. The safest rooms are on the lowest floor, farther inside with as many inside walls between you and the outside as possible, and no windows. Small rooms with solid construction like restrooms and closets are best. A strong table and thick pads, such as a mattress, can protect you against falling debris. Helmets for motorcycles or sports can protect your head. People in mobile homes or other weak buildings should seek proper shelter elsewhere. Pay special attention to possible tornado threats earlier to give plenty of time to go to safety while it’s still safe.

STEP-2 -- Keep Informed: The 45th Weather Squadron gives the potential for severe weather at Patrick Air Force Base (PAFB), Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) and the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in a daily 24-Hour and Weekly forecasts, which can be found at www.patrick.af.mil/about-us/weather. The 45th Weather Squadron can usually predict the conditions for severe weather a few days in advance in winter. If the threat continues, the 45th Weather Squadron then issues a Severe Weather Watch with a desired lead-time of a few hours. Finally, if tornadoes are imminent or observed, the 45th Weather Squadron issues a Tornado Warning with a desired lead-time of five minutes. Follow local procedures for adverse weather. Keep your AtHoc notification system account contact information up-to-date.

At home, stay informed about approaching weather. When not on PAFB, CCAFS, or KSC, the best source of weather information is the National Weather Service in Melbourne. They provide the potential for severe weather in their general forecasts, especially their graphical hazards, which can be found by logging onto www.weather.gov/mlb. They issue a Tornado Watch when tornadoes may develop, and issue a Tornado Warning when a tornado is imminent or observed.

If severe weather is likely, ensure you and your family review your safety plan, and know where your safest room is located.  If there is time before the high winds start, secure any loose outside materials and close protective shutters, but don’t put yourself in danger to do so. If a tornado or Severe Weather Watch is issued, listen for weather warnings and be ready to act.  If a warning is issued for your area, go to your safe room immediately.  Regardless of whether a Warning is issued, go to your safe room if threatening weather approaches – there may not be time for an official warning to get to you. You can also monitor local TV and radio for weather information.

When not on PAFB, CCAFS, or KSC, one of the best ways to be alert to severe weather is to buy a NOAA All Hazards Radio. This is essential if you live in a location without a tornado siren. However, even if you live near a tornado siren, it may not be loud enough to wake you while asleep. Most of the winter tornadoes in central Florida occur at night. Tornadoes between midnight and dawn are 2.5 times more likely to kill than tornadoes during the day because people are sleeping and either do not hear the warning or do not react quickly enough. A NOAA Radio by your bed should be loud enough to wake you.  They also provide alternatives for the hearing and visually impaired. These radios do not cover two percent of the country, so test your reception to be sure you’re covered.

When not on PAFB, CCAFS, or KSC, having a second way to receive severe weather warnings is recommended. For example, Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) send local tornado warnings directly to your mobile phone. This free service is available from all major service providers and uses a loud audible alert. WEA does not require manual set-up or a subscription; it is automatically configured and ready to receive tornado warnings on modern smart phones. Many smart phones and other mobile devices have free or low cost apps for weather information like tornado warnings and weather radar.

In addition to tornado hazards, another weather issue to consider this winter is that rainfall is expected to be below normal in our area, which could contribute to an active wildfire season in spring 2018. The temperature outlook is for warmer than normal conditions, but freeze events are possible regardless.

Our current winter tornado season is expected to be below normal. But it only takes one! Are you prepared? 

For more information about weather safety and for training, contact the 45th Weather Squadron at 45WS@us.af.mil or 321-853-8410.