Tornado Season – Be prepared

According to the 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron Readiness and Emergency Management Flight, when it comes to tornadoes, there is no such thing as a “tornado season.” Tornadoes can strike anywhere, anytime, and residents need to know the drill, and be prepared to act quickly. (U.S. Air FOrce Grpahic by Tech. Sgt. Randy Redman)

(U.S. Air Force/Graphic by Tech. Sgt. Randy Redman)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The winter tornado season in central Florida usually peaks February to April. However, our winter tornadoes can strike as early as December.

Are you prepared?

Tornado safety is an easy 2-step process.

Step-1 -- Have A Plan:  Identify the safest room in your building and ensure everyone knows it. This applies at both home and work. The safest rooms are on the lowest floor, farther inside, especially with inside walls between you and the outside wall, small rooms with solid construction like restrooms and closets, and away from windows. A strong table and thick pads can protect you against falling debris. Motorcycle and sports helmets can protect your head. People in mobile homes or other portable buildings should seek proper shelter elsewhere.

Step-2 -- Keep Informed: The 45th Weather Squadron gives the potential for severe weather at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the daily 24-Hour and Weekly Forecasts. The 45th WS can usually predict the conditions for severe weather a few days in advance in winter. If the threat continues, 45th WS then issues a Severe Weather Watch with a desired lead-time of four hours for CCAFS/KSC and PAFB.  Finally, if tornadoes are imminent or observed, 45th WS issues a Tornado Warning with a desired lead-time of five minutes for CCAFS/KSC and PAFB. Follow your local procedures for adverse weather.

At home, stay informed about approaching weather. The National Weather Service in Melbourne gives the potential for severe weather in their general forecasts at www.srh.noaa.gov/mlb. They issue a Tornado Watch when tornadoes may develop.  Finally, National Weather Service issues a Tornado Warning when a tornado is imminent or detected.

If severe weather is likely, ensure you and your family reviews your safety plan and knows 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 be disseminated. You can also monitor local TV and radio for weather information.

One of the best ways to prepare for severe weather is to buy a NOAA All Hazards Radio, formerly known as NOAA Weather Radio. Click here to learn more. 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. 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 waning or do not react quickly enough. Many of the winter tornadoes in central Florida occur at night. A NOAA Radio by your bed is easily loud enough to wake you. A NOAA Radio provides alternatives for the hearing and visually impaired but doesn't cover 2 percent of the country, so test your reception to be sure you're covered.

Having a second way to receive severe weather warnings is recommended, for example, a mobile device with text messaging or email capability. Some county emergency management offices and many of the Orlando TV station websites relay official National Weather Service warnings for free, direct to your mobile device. Check with your service provider since they may charge for receiving these messages. You can even set different ring tones for those calls, for example a loud alarm. Some of these services allow targeting of the messages to specific locations so that you are notified only of warnings that affect you. Also, a FEMA/DHS program called Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) sends local National Weather Service tornado warnings direct to your mobile device. Click here to learn more. The free service is available from most service providers. Check with your service provider to see if they participate in WEA and if your device is WEA capable.

Smart-Phones and other devices now have free or low-cost apps for NOAA Radio. Other apps can provide severe weather information like National Weather Service warnings and weather radar.  Internet access can provide a wealth of weather and weather safety information.

Our current winter tornado season is expected to be above normal, according to the National Weather Service in Melbourne and the outlook from the NOAA Climate Prediction Center. So, now is the time to prepare. Even if the season is below normal, it only takes one tornado to make it a terrible season if it hits your house.

Weather safety is easy and effective:  be prepared, keep informed, be safe. Weather safety training is available from 45th Weather Squadron at (321) 494-8410.