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The severe weather season is off to a fast and furious start this year. An abundance of early season warmth and moisture has already produced tornadoes as far north as Wausau, Wisconsin. In fact, the season is just short of the historic high for tornadoes as of April 11th with the inflation adjusted number already at 438.

Right now 2017 is on pace to have the most twisters since 2008. Already there have been 27 deaths from 8 killer tornadoes. The 27 fatalities is 10 more than occurred all of last year.

Currently the season is in high gear across the southern Plains and lower Mississippi Valley.

By late May and early June the action reaches northward into my local area.

However, here's a cautionary note. Tornadoes can come at any time, especially now that we're well into April. Have a plan in place if the day ever comes when you and your family is threatened. Here's some tips.

If You're in a Building

  • Make sure you have a portable radio, preferably a NOAA Weather Radio, for weather alerts and updates.

  • Seek shelter in the lowest level of your home, such as a basement or storm cellar. If you don't have a basement, go to an inner hallway, a smaller inner room or a closet.

  • Keep away from all windows and glass doorways.

  • If you're in a building such as a church, hospital, school or office building, go to the innermost part of the building on the lowest floor. Do not use elevators because the power may fail, leaving you trapped.

  • You can cushion yourself with a mattress, but don't cover yourself with one. Cover your head and eyes with a blanket or jacket to protect against flying debris and broken glass. Don't waste time moving mattresses around.

  • Keep pets on a leash or in a crate or carrier.

  • Stay inside until you're certain the storm has passed, as multiple tornadoes can emerge from the same storm.

  • Do not leave a building to attempt to "escape" a tornado.

If You're Outside

  • Try to get inside a building as quickly as possible and find a small, protected space away from windows.

  • Avoid buildings with long-span roof areas such as a school gymnasium, arena or shopping mall, as these structures are usually supported only by outside walls. When hit by a tornado, buildings like these can collapse, because they cannot withstand the pressure of the storm.

  • If you cannot find a place to go inside, crouch for protection next to a strong structure or lie flat in a ditch or other low-lying area. Cover your head and neck with your arms or a jacket, if you have one.

If You're in a Car

  • If you can safely drive away from the tornado, do so.

  • If there is a sturdy structure available, go inside.

  • If no building is available, it might be better to pull over, stop the car (but leave it running so the air bags work), and crouch down below the windows. The airbags and frame of the car will offer some amount of protection, but certainly not absolute safety.

  • A long-standing safety rule has been to get out of the car and into a ditch. If you do that, you should get far enough away from the car that it doesn’t tumble onto you. Being below the prevailing ground level may shield you from some of the tornado wind and flying debris, but there is still danger from those.

  • Do NOT get out of a vehicle and climb up under the embankment of a bridge or overpass. This often increases your risk.

If You're in a Mobile Home

  • Do not remain in a mobile home during a tornado. Even mobile homes equipped with tie-down systems cannot withstand the force of a tornado's winds.

  • Heed all local watches and warnings, and leave your mobile home to seek shelter as quickly as possible before a tornado strikes, preferably in a nearby building with a basement.

  • If no shelter is immediately available, find the lowest-lying area near you and lie down in it, covering your head with your hands.

Know Your Terms

Depending on the expected severity of a storm, the National Weather Service may issue one or more of the following:

  • Severe thunderstorm watch: Conditions are conducive to the development of severe thunderstorms in and around the watch area. These storms produce hail of ¾ inch in diameter and/or wind gusts of at least 58 mph.

  • Severe thunderstorm warning: Issued when a severe thunderstorm has been observed by spotters or indicated on radar, and is occurring or imminent in the warning area. These warnings usually last for a period of 30 to 60 minutes.

  • Tornado watch: Conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms and multiple tornadoes in and around the watch area. People in the affected areas are encouraged to be vigilant in preparation for severe weather.

  • Tornado warning: Spotters have sighted a tornado or one has been indicated on radar, and is occurring or imminent in the warning area. When a tornado warning has been issued, people in the affected area are strongly encouraged to take cover immediately.


That leads me to a big Tornado Anniversary. April 11th is the 52nd anniversary of the Palm Sunday tornado outbreak. It began in eastern Iowa around noon and quickly spread east. By the time the event was over 260 people had perished and 17 EF4 tornadoes were reported in just 12 hours. Lots of big deadly twisters. Below is a link to an article on the outbreak in U.S. Tornadoes

By the way, the image of the twin tornadoes taken by Paul Huffmann is one of the most iconic tornado pictures ever shot. It's been viewed millions of times around the world and was the first image to document a large multi-vortex tornado. Ted Fujita (of the EF scale) used the images and data from the Palm Sunday outbreak to further his understanding of suction spots in multiple vortex tornadoes. Below is a video of Paul talking about the day he chanced upon and captured such a remarkable storm.

Well, that's it for now. No severe weather threat in the Midwest until Friday at the earliest. Have a happy hump-day and roll weather...TS

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