While we have all been focused on staying safe from the coroanavirus and Covid-19, we can't forget that it is also severe weather season here in the Texas panhandle along with the rest of tornado alley. Easter weekend was a great reminder of making sure you know how to be prepared for severe weather and take shelter when it is needed. This past Saturday saw severe thunderstorms across the eastern part of the panhandle while Easter Sunday brought tornadoes to the deep south.

Credit: Wikipedia, NOAA

While it may seem to many that Amarillo area doesn't get a lot of tornado activity, we are still right in the midst of Tornado Alley. The region starts at the Texas / New Mexico border and spreads east into Oklahoma, north toward South Dakota, and south into central Texas. The eastern panhandle counties tend to get more severe storms than right in the city of Amarillo, however that does not mean we are immune to tornadoes, hail, strong winds, lightning, and flooding.

WATCH VS. WARNING

When the National Weather Service issues a WATCH, whether it be for a tornado, severe thunderstorm, or other hazard, this is when you need to be ready to activate your weather safety plan. A WATCH means that conditions are favorable and that the type of weather the WATCH is issued for is possible in your location. In the event of a tornado WATCH, you and your family need to review and discuss your emergency plans and check supplies and your safe room. Be ready to act quickly if a warning is issued or you suspect a tornado is approaching.

If a WARNING is issued for your location, this is the time to act and quickly. In the case of a tornado, a WARNING means a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. There is imminent danger to life and property. Move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building. Avoid windows. If in a mobile home, a vehicle, or outdoors, move to the closest substantial shelter and protect yourself from flying debris.

CREATING YOUR STORM SAFE SPACE

Living in tornado alley, it is important that you have your safe space or safe room already picked out. For me, I live in a 1 story townhouse, so I will use the most interior room of my home which is the walk in closet. It is in the middle of my structure and has no windows nearby. The important thing to remember about any safe space is to be in the lowest level, and center most part of your home. If you live in a mobile home or manufactured home, you will need to get out and find a fortified building. If you are building a home, you can purchase pre-built storm shelters to go underground in your garage or yard.

Inside of your storm safety space, you want to make sure you have supplies to hunker down for a bit but also to keep yourself safe within the space.

  • Thick blanket, comforter, or air mattress to put over you to protect from falling and blowing debris
  • Bike helmet or head protection
  • Sturdy shoes - if your home takes a hit, there will be debris. You will need good shoes to ensure you don't get further injured
  • Battery powered radio and a NOAA Weather radio
  • Bottled water & non-perishable food in case you are stuck for a period of time
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Battery operated phone charger
  • First Aid Supplies
  • Toilet paper and bags with ties for personal sanitation
  • Personal hygiene items (travel size deodorant, cotton swabs, feminine items, etc)
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Important documents (identification, insurance information, banking information, wills, etc)
  • Formula and diapers (if there is an infant in the house)
  • Extra pet food (if there are pets in the house)
  • Cups and utensils
  • A change of clothes for each person in your home
  • Cash
  • Paper towels
  • Fire Extinguisher
  • Cards or game (it is important to have something to do to take your mind off the situation for a few moments or alleviate stress if you will be in your shelter for an extended time)
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HOW TO PREPARE FOR A TORNADO

  • Be Weather-Ready: Check the forecast regularly to see if you're at risk for tornadoes. Listen to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio to stay informed about tornado watches and warnings.
  • Sign Up for Notifications: Know how your community sends warnings. Some communities have outdoor sirens. Others depend on media and smart phones to alert residents of severe storms capable of producing tornadoes.
  • Create a Communications Plan: Have a family plan that includes an emergency meeting place and related information. If you live in a mobile home or home without a basement, identify a nearby safe building you can get too quickly, such as a church or family member.
  • Pick a safe room in your home, such as a basement, storm cellar, or an interior room on the lowest floor with no windows.
  • Practice Your Plan: Conduct a family severe thunderstorm drill regularly so everyone knows what to do if a tornado is approaching. Make sure all members of your family know to go there when tornado warnings are issued. Don't forget pets if time allows.
  • Prepare Your Home: Consider having your safe room reinforced. You can find plans for reinforcing an interior room to provide better protection on the Federal Emergency Management Agency website.
  • Help Your Neighbor: Encourage your loved ones to prepare for the possibility of tornadoes. Take CPR training so you can help if someone is hurt.

DURING A TORNADO

  • Stay Weather-Ready: Continue to listen to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio to stay updated about tornado watches and warnings.
  • At Your House: If you are in a tornado warning, go to your basement, safe room, or an interior room away from windows. Don't forget pets if time allows.
  • At Your Workplace or School: Follow your tornado drill and proceed to your tornado shelter location quickly and calmly. Stay away from windows and do not go to large open rooms such as cafeterias, gymnasiums, or auditoriums.
  • Outside: Seek shelter inside a sturdy building immediately if a tornado is approaching. Sheds and storage facilities are not safe. Neither is a mobile home or tent. If you have time, get to a safe building.
  • In a vehicle: Being in a vehicle during a tornado is not safe. The best course of action is to drive to the closest shelter. If you are unable to make it to a safe shelter, either get down in your car and cover your head, or abandon your car and seek shelter in a low lying area such as a ditch or ravine.

AFTER A TORNADO

  • Stay Informed: Continue to listen to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio to stay updated about tornado watches and warnings. Multiple rounds of thunderstorms capable of producing tornadoes are possible during severe weather outbreaks.
  • Contact Your Family and Loved Ones: Let your family and close friends know that you're okay so they can help spread the word. Text messages or social media are more reliable forms of communication than phone calls.
  • Assess the Damage: After the threat for tornadoes has ended, check to see if your property has been damaged. When walking through storm damage, wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and sturdy shoes. Contact local authorities if you see power lines down. Stay out of damaged buildings. Be aware of insurance scammers if your property has been damaged.
  • Help Your Neighbor: If you come across people that are injured and you are properly trained, provide first aid to victims if needed until emergency response teams arrive.