About hurricanes and tornados
The so-called tornado season lasts from April to June. The hurricane season picks up in June and lasts until November. But there’s one
problem with these “seasons” – hurricanes and tornadoes have occurred in every month of the year. Don’t assume that they can occur only in
season – you’ll be mistaken.
Size, shape, speed and power
Hurricanes are substantially larger than
tornadoes. In fact, hurricanes frequently
produce a number of tornadoes. The two are
also very different in appearance. While a
hurricane appears as a huge, circular mass of
swirling clouds, a tornado manifests itself as a
smaller, dark gray, funnel-shaped cloud.
Because of their size and shape,
you can see some differences in how these two
powerful phenomena make their assaults. The
hurricane is larger, and causes more of a
sustained attack. The devastating wind and
rain can last for many hours. Because of its large, circular, swirling,
formation, the center of a hurricane (the eye)
is very peaceful. It’s also very dangerous. The
eye of the storm can last from a few seconds to
a half hour; it’s extremely unpredictable. Calm
air can become a ferocious 100 mph wind in a
matter of seconds.
A tornado works in the opposite way. The
center, where the funnel touches down, is
incredibly violent. The cyclone churns upon
itself, generating powerful and devastating
It’s a trade-off. The hurricane is bigger and
lasts much longer, but isn’t quite as strong as
the smaller, erratic, short-lived tornado. While
some tornadoes last only a few seconds, a
powerful hurricane can last for days, with gusts
of up to 160 mph. The tornado, on the other
hand, briefly cuts an erratic, sharp path of
destruction brought on by winds of up to
They’re powerful and frightening, but you
don’t have to be completely at their mercy.
There are ways for you to lessen the potential
devastation they can cause to you and your
‘Watch’ or ‘Warning’
Many people get confused about the difference between a watch and a warning. Here are the simple definitions:
Hurricane Watch – Weather conditions are well-suited for the formation of a hurricane; or a hurricane has formed but the authorities
are unsure as to whether or not it will strike a particular area.
Hurricane Warning – A hurricane is imminent. Generally, the hurricane will strike the area in 24 hours. Evacuation may be necessary if recommended by the proper authorities.
Tornado Watch – Weather conditions are ideal for the formation of a tornado. This does not mean that a funnel cloud has fully formed and touched down. It doesn’t guarantee that a tornado will appear. It only means that early preparation is advised.
Tornado watches usually last for a couple of hours.
Tornado Warning – A tornado or tornadoes have been sighted. Generally, you won’t have more than a few minutes, at most, to prepare. Since tornado warnings don’t give you much
time to make all your safety preparations, it’s important for you to pay attention to the tornado watch.
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Five stages of hurricane and tornado awareness
1. Before a Storm
For all the destruction hurricanes and tornadoes can cause, a significant amount of damage would be reduced if people took some necessary safety precautions. The following suggestions can help you prepare your home and family.
An important reminder
- Have a plan of action
For a hurricane — know evacuation routes, know the safest and strongest areas of your house, and have a plan for contacting family members.
For a tornado — know the safest areas of
your house and how to contact family
- Leave early
- Keep emergency supplies on hand
Keep extra medical supplies, non-perishable
food and bottled water. A powerful storm
could interrupt your utilities services for
hours or even days.
Be sure to keep a portable radio, flashlights
and fresh batteries on hand. If you lose
electricity, your only contact with the
outside world will be your radio.
Keep repair supplies on hand. You’ll need
some plywood to protect windows, or at
least some tape. Taping windows diagonally
helps keep them from shattering, but it’s
not as effective as plywood. By having tools,
nails, tape, etc., you’ll be prepared to repair
any storm damage immediately.
- Take an inventory of your property
Take pictures and make detailed
descriptions. Keep it up-to-date. By making
a detailed, accurate inventory of your
property, your insurance company will be
able to help you recover your losses faster
and more completely. And make sure you
understand your insurance policy
completely. Your Farmers agent is there to
- Keep copies of important documents
Papers like deeds, birth certificates,
insurance policies, etc., should be copied,
with the originals stored in a safe place such
as a waterproof container or a bank safe
- Some hurricane precautions
Because of flooding risks from the
prolonged, torrential rains associated with
hurricanes, be aware of the elevation of
your home as well as safety routes out of
town, and the locations of the nearest
Don’t put off any of the above precautions.
You won’t have time to do them once a watch
or warning has been issued. Even though a
hurricane watch or warning gives you many
hours’ or even days’ notice, roads and stores
will be packed with people trying to leave the
area, or trying to stock up on supplies. Either
way, it makes for potentially dangerous traffic
jams, and a lot of empty store shelves. Your
best bet is to have supplies ready before the
2. A Storm Watch
Once a watch is issued, you know to be on
your guard. There is a chance that a hurricane
or a tornado may be coming to your area.
Calmly prepare a course of action. Use extra
care in the case of a tornado watch. If it gets
upgraded to a tornado warning, you may have
only a few minutes before it hits.
Here are some suggestions in the event of
- Keep informed by official sources
Use the radio and television for reports
from authorized sources. Don’t rely on
hearsay. Official reports will give you
current status of the storm, as well as any
other important emergency information.
- Secure any loose outdoor objects
Items such as garbage cans, lawn chairs,
etc., can be extremely dangerous, if left
- For a tornado watch, avoid cars
Tornadoes are very unpredictable, and
powerful enough to lift a car. Tornadoes, as
opposed to hurricanes, may rapidly be
upgraded from watch status to warning
- For a tornado watch, avoid mobile
Because tornadoes can quickly be upgraded
from watches to warnings, and because
tornado winds are powerful enough to carry
a mobile home, you should avoid mobile
homes if a watch is issued. If you live in
one, check your tie-downs, and head for an
3. A Storm Warning
Once a warning is issued, you must take
action. You know that a hurricane will be upon
you within 24 hours, or that a tornado or a
well-formed funnel cloud has been sighted in
your area. Remember, as you read the hints
that follow, you will have several hours to take
your hurricane precautions; but you will have
only a few minutes to take your tornado
precautions. Plan accordingly. You may now
have time to take some of the precautions
listed. Every situation is different, so use your
best judgment and work fast.
- Avoid mobile homes
- Avoid cars
Use extreme caution. And stay away from
cars when the storm hits. Cars are no match
for these powerful winds.
For tornadoes: get out of your car
immediately and seek shelter. Don’t try to
race it. Tornadoes are fast and very erratic.
If you can’t find a place to go, find a low
lying area, lie flat, and cover your head.
You’re safer out of your car than in it.
- Secure home windows with plywood,
storm shutters, or tape, placed diagonally.
- Move or moor your boat. You won’t have
time in the case of a tornado, but with a
hurricane you will have notice.
- Bring emergency supplies to the safest area
of your house. Have flashlights, medications, radios, food,
drink, etc., in your secure areas. The safest
parts of the house will be interior hallways,
central bathrooms or closets, and basements
of reinforced concrete. Basements are
especially ideal for tornadoes, but if you
have a flooding problem, you may not want
to go to the basement for a hurricane —
which delivers hours of torrential rains.
- Keep the television or radio on.
4. During the storm
A major windstorm can be very frightening. It
can sound like anything from a violent
downpour to a runaway freight train. But as
scary as it may seem, the key is to remain
- Continue to listen to the radio.
- Stay inside
In the case of a hurricane, don’t be fooled
by momentary calm winds. In the eye
(center) of the storm, it’s peaceful. But as
the hurricane passes by, you’ll suddenly be
bombarded by high-speed winds coming
from the opposite direction. The eye can
last anywhere from a few seconds to a half
- Stay in your safe area
Remain in the basement, interior hallway,
interior closet, etc., until you’re sure, by
listening to your radio, that the storm is
- Try to keep facing toward the wind.
If you know exactly where the windstorm
is, and what direction it’s heading, keep
yourself as far away from the storm as as
you can. Very simply, keep as many walls as
possible between you and the storm.
- Stay away from windows and glass doors.
- Once again, remain calm
Your best protection in any emergency is
keeping a cool, clear head.
5. The aftermath
By listening to your portable radio you’ll know
when the windstorm is over. If you don’t have
a radio, wait at least one half hour to make
sure that the storm is over. There is much to
do in the aftermath of a tornado or hurricane.
Knowing what to do, and when, will save you
time, money and help ensure your family’s
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- Watch for potential hazards:
Weakened roads or bridges
Broken or damaged power lines (electric, gas, etc.)
Broken glass, splintered wood and other sharp, dangerous objects
- Be smart and safe with food.
- Be safe about water.
Your best bet is to have several gallons of
bottled water on hand. On average, keep
three gallons of water per family member.
This will hold you for at least three days.
What to do if there is damage to your home or business
Make a detailed list of the damages and contact your insurance agent promptly. The sooner you call, the faster you can be served (usually within a few hours). If you aren't able to call from home, don't forget to tell your agent where you can be reached.
- Do temporary repairs to prevent further damage from weather or looting.
- If there is extensive damage, hire a reliable contractor. Beware of fraudulent contractors who prey on disaster victims.
- Keep all repair receipts for your insurance agent.
- Most of all, especially for a hurricane (where there is extensive and widespread damage), please be patient. Your insurance agent must handle claims based on need, taking care of the most serious situations first. If that situation is yours, be secure in the knowledge that you will be taken care of, and taken care of soon.
- Finally, in the wake of a major disaster, cooperate with the authorities. Whether you're asked to relinquish phone lines, keep off emergency roads or anything else, you must comply. In the aftermath of a major disaster, everyone must pitch in and do their part.
For more information on storm preparedness: Storm Prediction Center
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