Severe Weather Awareness Week, April 22–26

Posted on 4/22/2019 1:54:46 PM

2019 Severe Weather Awareness week for Pennsylvania is April 22–26. Plan ahead and stay weather aware for safe spring!

Our topic for today is “Tornadoes and Severe Weather Safety.”

What is a Tornado?

A tornado is a violently rotating column of air in contact with the ground. The wind speeds inside a tornado range from under 100 miles an hour up to 300 miles an hour. They can travel with a forward speed as fast as 70 mph, and can destroy virtually everything in their path.

While most tornadoes that occur in Pennsylvania are not as strong as their counterparts in the plains, strong and damaging tornadoes can and do occur here. In fact, Pennsylvania ranks in the top 25 for
tornado occurrence in the United States.

What is a Severe Thunderstorm?

A thunderstorm is considered severe if it produces wind gusts of 58 miles an hour or higher and/or hail one inch in diameter or larger. Those hailstones are about the size of a quarter. Severe thunderstorms are often accompanied by torrential downpours and frequent lightning. They can also produce brief, weak tornadoes. The damage from the strong wind gusts of a severe thunderstorm can be just as bad as the damage made by a tornado. Severe thunderstorms are much more common than tornadoes. 

All thunderstorms are dangerous. Every thunderstorm produces lightning. In the United States, an average of 300 people are injured and 40 people are killed each year by lightning.

What does a Watch mean?

A Watch is issued by the National Weather Service in order to alert you that severe thunderstorms are expected to develop, and to highlight that those storms have the potential to produce tornadoes. A Tornado Watch covers a very wide area, generally about the size of a state. A Tornado Watch will last for several hours, expiring only when the threat of thunderstorms is expected to end.

What should you do when a Watch is issued?

Go about your normal activities, but watch the sky around you for developing storms. Periodically listen to NOAA Weather Radio or media outlets for updates and possible warnings.

Know which county you live in, and which ones border your community. Think of a safe place to move to quickly if a tornado warning is issued for your location, or if thunderstorms approach.

What does a Warning mean?

A Warning is issued when meteorologists spot a developing tornado or severe thunderstorm using Doppler radar, or when a tornado has been sighted by trained Skywarn spotters. The warning means a tornado or severe thunderstorm is going to move through your area soon, so you need to take immediate
action to protect your life and property.

Tornado and Severe Weather Warnings issued by National Weather Service meteorologist typically cover areas smaller than one county, and for a duration of generally less than one hour. In the text of the warning statement, we try to make a specific list of towns that are likely to be in the path of the tornado. You should listen to hear if communities or landmarks near you are mentioned in the warning. 

What you should do when a Warning is issued for your area?

Take immediate action, but remain calm. If you are at home or in a small building, go to the basement or to an interior room on the lowest floor. Closets, bathrooms, and other interior rooms without windows offer the best protection. Avoid windows, and get under something sturdy or cover yourself with a mattress.

If you are in a school, hospital, or shopping center, go to a pre-designated shelter area. Stay away from large open areas such as gyms or auditoriums. Hallways and small interior rooms offer the best protection. Do not go outside to your car. If you are in a high-rise building, go to an small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible. Do not use the elevator.

Mobile homes are easily tossed about by the strong winds of a tornado. Immediately take shelter in a substantial structure.

If you are caught outdoors and cannot get to a safe building, as a last resort, you should:

If you have access to a vehicle, get in and buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter. If your vehicle is hit by flying debris while you are driving, pull over and park. Stay in the car with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows, and cover your head with your hands and a blanket, coat, or other cushion, if possible.

If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, leave your car and lie in that low area, covering your head with your hands.

Your choice of whether to stay in your car should be driven by your specific circumstances. If you are in a car, or if you seek shelter in a depression or ditch with a tornado approaching, you remain a risk. The safest place to be is in an underground shelter, basement, or safe interior room.

Remember . . .

  • Watch: Be Ready
  • Warning: Take Action!

This message is brought to you by the Emergency Management Office