Tornadoes: Watch for the Signs

During my time in New York City, there seemed to be all kinds of turbulent, out-of-the-ordinary weather. However, I was not expecting there to be a tornado. Who ever heard of tornadoes in New York? All the same, on September 16, 2010, I can remember looking out my apartment window and seeing flashes of light going off every second- pop, pop, pop! The rain and wind were so torrential, my roommate and I couldn’t even hear each other without yelling. Outside, people were running for cover and being blown this way and that. Then, the sky turned an alarming and unmistakable shade of green- tornado green. It was like a nightmare come-true.

Fortunately, the city survived without too much devastation, although one woman had been killed and many houses and cars had been smashed by uprooted trees. Lucky for New York that was the extent of damage. It could have been far worse for a city full of people who had no experience with tornadoes.

So what are tornadoes exactly and why are they so dangerous? We all know what they look like: a huge, whirling funnel filled with terror, fear, and debris. But how can we recognize them?

To start with, a tornado is defined as “a  narrow, violently rotating column of air that extends from the base of a thunderstorm to the ground.”(1) Winds can reach up to 300 mph.(2) It’s only visible when condensation occurs (the cloud), or when it has picked up debris and dust. The USA averages about 1,200 tornadoes yearly, most of them occurring in the Midwest. In fact, the American continent gets more tornadoes than the rest of the world. Tornadoes can form at pretty much any time of the year, but tend to peak during the spring and summer months.

One of the first ways to prepare for these deadly storms is to recognize the signs of an impending tornado:

○      Tornadoes are accompanied by thunderstorms.

■      To find reliable information on storms in your area, go to (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

■      A severe thunderstorm watch means that storms are possible in your area. Once it changes to a severe thunderstorm warning, you can be certain that the storms are already occurring.(3)

○      Watch for warm weather. Tornadoes usually occur under hot temperatures. It will often feel muggy, and humid outside.(4)

○      Look at the sky. What color are the clouds? Tornado weather will turn the clouds a greenish color and will bulge downwards.

○      Check to see if the clouds are moving in a rotating manner

○      Is there debris or dust moving in a whirling pattern under the base of the cloud (the lowest point of altitude)?(5)

○      Listen for a loud roaring noise. It’s distinguishable from thunder because of it’s constant low rumbling.(6)

○      Large hailstones are another good indicator of an impending tornado.

As soon as you are made aware of an impending tornado, seek shelter. The best shelter is found in the lowest floor possible of a building, like a basement or a storm cellar.

Tornadoes are dangerous, but survivable. Learn to recognize the signs. Be prepared and stay safe!

Contributed by Brooke A.
A Food Insurance™ Guest Author


1 “Severe Weather 101: Tornado FAQ”. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 2013- 02- 19

2 “Tornadoes”. Federal Emergency Management Agency. Retrieved 2013-02-19

3 “Tornadoes: Being Prepared”.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 2013-02-19.

4 “Tornado Preparedness”. The Disaster Handbook. University of Florida: Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Retrieved 2013-02-19.

5 Edwards, Roger. “Tornado Safety”. Storm Prediction Center, OK. Retrieved 2013-02-19

6 Johnson, Steve. “Three Signs of Tornadoes”. Retrieved 2013-02-19

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