Hurricane & Tornado Preparation

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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 winds.

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 200 mph.

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 family.

‘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.

  • 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 members.
  • 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 help you.
  • 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 deposit box.
  • 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 shelters.
An important reminder
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 trouble arises.

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 a watch:

  • 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 outside.
  • 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 status.
  • For a tornado watch, avoid mobile homes
    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 approved shelter.

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 calm.

  • 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 hour.
  • 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 over.
  • 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 safety.

  • 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.

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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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